Tilt – Escape the Crowds to Beer and Pinball

One session IPA and six ghosts caught. Not a bad haul for a Monday evening. The IPA was smooth and required little effort. Catching the ghosts however involved dealing with a relentless bang and clatter, red flashing lights and getting shouted at by a nameless, faceless voice from the ether. It also involved some skill and dexterity if I may say so. I haven’t played a pinball machine since my youth but I enjoyed the experience of thrashing that small metallic ball around more than I expected. The Ghostbusters machine was my weapon of choice and, after a few frenetic minutes of flipping, my ball finally sunk agonisingly to the bottom and it was announced that the game was over and that I had caught six ghosts. One pound well spent.

Tilt is a bright and friendly craft ale bar that is located right in the commercial heart of Birmingham city centre just off Union Street, tucked away inside the elegant Victorian terracotta and pistachio-green iron surroundings of City Arcade. It also offers an extensive range of speciality coffee and loose leaf tea for those not in the mood for alcohol (January will presumably be quite popular for these).

It was surprisingly busy when I wandered in on early Monday evening, full of joyful souls and completely free of any garish Christmas decorations or Cliff Richard. In a surprisingly happy turn of events the 80’s power rock/pop soundtrack I was treated to over the speakers (‘More Than a Feeling’, ‘Don’t Stop Believin’, ‘Get Outta My Dreams, Get into My Car’) meshed rather harmoniously with the slamming and whirring of the pinball machines. The eclectic and constantly changing beer list is as minimalist as the décor and is modestly displayed on a row of A4 sheets of paper clipped onto a wooden panel opposite the bar. The dizzying array styles on offer ranged from a standard pint of pilsner to two thirds of raspberry ripple sour to a third of a farmhouse ale re-fermented in Cognac barrels (Sin Frontera).

Needless to say if you aren’t interested in trying some of the most striking and intriguing beers Birmingham has to offer then this isn’t the place for you. Tilt was recently on the end of a scathing review on TripAdvisor from a customer who hadn’t bothered to read any of the labels or descriptions of the sour beers he blithely purchased one afternoon and then furiously complained that they were sour. Thankfully the ill thought-out review got taken down after a strong backlash by the owner and everyone else who likes good beer and can read labels.

The pièce de résistance of course though is the motley crew of gaudy coin-operated pinball machines, all 20 of them spread across three floors. Each one has a different theme with wonderfully camp artwork on the display ranging from Star Wars to Iron Maiden to Game of Thrones. In the main bar there are eight of them lined up like prize-fighters, full of energy and ready to take you on and knock you down (but hoping you come back for more, if you have enough change).

I asked about them to a friendly chap behind the bar who looked like a long lost member of Fleet Foxes with his dark denim shirt, thick beard and flowing brown hair under a knitted hat. Each machine costs an eye-watering amount of money he tells me and I can see why. He says people come in to spend their lunchtimes playing on them and they also host a monthly pinball league on the last Monday of the month. A family of four with a young son and daughter come in at one point and are all hunched around the Guardians of the Galaxy machine, smiling and captivated by the whizzing balls and strange noises. I’m sure there are worse ways for parents and children to bond.

The odd location for a bar of this type makes it a veritable oasis for anyone wishing to quickly escape the hurried horrors of Birmingham’s Christmas shopping season although really it’s a superb spot to head to at any time of year. Especially for catching ghosts.

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