By Amanda Holman
Entering Tilt Classic Arcade and Ale House (Tilt), a new bar in South Burlington, is a bit like crossing over into any adult’s fantasy. The two-story space is filled with pinball and arcade games, sure to send any person over 20 into a nostalgic tailspin. With a range of games from the classic Asteroids and Pac-Man to the slightly more recent Simpsons arcade game, several different pinball machines, and Nintendo 64, the bar offers multiple generations the chance to enjoy childhood favorites. Even the décor helps to set the mood with bright murals designed by local artist Sam Balling, and a television that continuously plays science fiction favorites in the background.
What inspired the opening of an arcade bar in Vermont? Owner and Shelburne resident Joshua Nickerson, MD had the idea for the bar about three years ago, and immediately trademarked the name. “When I was a kid, I grew up playing video games,” he stated. “I mean like most kids my age, I grew up in the 1980s, and you know, like most kids in the mall, I begged my mother for quarters to play games. That was the era back then.” As he grew up and traveled for work, he began to see bars like this in other college towns and realized there was a niche yet to be filled in the Burlington area.
As a doctor, Nickerson knew that while he had a tangible idea, he did not have the restaurant know-how to put it to action. Therefore, it was not until he met Hinesburg resident Thom Dodge, who had just ended his previous job as operating manager of the Hinesburgh Public House, that he was able to make his plan a reality. Dodge, originally from Maine, has an extensive background opening and building restaurants. After talking at a hospital luncheon, (Dodge’s wife works at the hospital with Nickerson), the pair realized they shared the same vision for the bar: drinks, dining, and games. The result has been a division of labor. Nickerson focuses on his passion, the gaming aspect, and Dodge operates the bar and kitchen.
While the games may have the patrons reminiscing, the bar itself caters to current trends. Dodge focuses on a 24 beer draught line featuring microbrews from around the country, and pub fare that is mostly local and GMO free. The goal is to have pub food to fit with the atmosphere, but still at a really high quality. Nickerson and Dodge focus on incorporating the local food and drink scene by hosting tap events every month. Different microbreweries will bring in five or six different draughts, then the two head chefs, Thom (a different Thom) and Eric, create different plates to feature the draughts.
Although Tilt may be a bar, it does not just cater to an adult crowd. The focus on food and games makes the bar family-friendly. While that was not the original intention, Nickerson and Dodge are both fathers themselves and like that the games make the bar cross generational. Nickerson is even teaching his six-year-old son, Gabriel, his love of pinball. “Although we didn’t design this place to be for kids,” Nickerson stated, “we’ll have kids in and I’ll see the parents explaining pinball to them. The kids have never played before and are fascinated by it. I think that’s one of the reasons pinball has made a bit of a resurgence, my generation wants to introduce it to our kids.” After 9pm, Tilt shifts to the older crowds, but has a kid’s menu and opens early on Sundays to give youngsters more time to play.
Nickerson keeps the games circulating and is frequently adding new ones to the mix. At the moment, the bar hosts 13 pinball games and 15 arcade games, and he is constantly on the lookout for more. A chalkboard wall on the ground level lets patrons write down games they would like to see, and Nickerson takes their ideas seriously. Thanks to a suggestion Tilt now has the Simpsons and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle arcade games. He really wants the experience to be great for everyone. “People my age… have jobs,” he continued. “We don’t have to beg our parents for quarters any more. This is what we liked to do, and now we can.”