Surly Pizza and Tilt announce new joint pinball league for the winter

From the left; Amanda Eggers and Nicki Eisenrich played pinball during the women-only pinball tournament at TILT in Minneapolis, Minn., on Wednesday, April 17, 2019.

From the left; Amanda Eggers and Nicki Eisenrich played pinball during the women-only pinball tournament at TILT in Minneapolis, Minn., on Wednesday, April 17, 2019. Star Tribune

If the Twin Cities feels like it’s in the midst of a pinball renaissance, that’s not your imagination. 

New brewpubs and bars continue to open, and more than ever they’re stocking those once-retro arcade games so we can play while we drink and make merry. Newcomers Falling Knife and NE Arcade both debuted their own impressive array of machines in late 2019… and heavy hitters have begun to take note, and follow suit.

Surly recently announced a joint venture with Tilt Pinball Bar. As temperatures drop and gaming options on their expansive patio get nixed by snow, the Goliath of brewing and Whittier’s reigning pinball titan are setting up a two-month-long pinball residency in Surly Pizza Upstairs, including a Monday night pinball league.

Hosted jointly by Surly and Tilt on Monday evenings at 7 p.m., the league has an open rolling sign-up, and welcomes all skill levels. Players will be matched by skill level based on weekly points earned, and groups will play a series of games of their choosing. Prizes will be awarded for top finishes at completion.

In advance of the league's debut, City Pages borrowed the ear of John Galvin, Tilt’s owner, pinball curator, and general doer of things, to find out more of how this new league came to be, and how they went about choosing the roster of games.

“[Surly] actually reached out to me and said they were thinking about doing some kind of a pop-up arcade,” said Galvin. “I think on one hand, they would like to get some new people in their door too, but they’re also looking for something for their regular customer base, some additional sort of entertainment to provide, again, during the colder months when… people are kind of looking for stuff to do indoors more so than in the summer.” 

Both Surly and Tilt understand that pinball gives people a great reason to get out of the house on a winter’s night, and a weekly basis makes it a habit.

Yet in trading three or four really big tables for a bevy of new pinball machines, Galvin pointed out just how much of a risk Surly is willing to take that the public is as passionate about the game as Tilt’s fan base is. 

It helps that the games Galvin has curated for the arcade pop-up are totally awesome. For a while now, Galvin has been responsible for the lone pinball machine at Surly (which is how this whole thing got started), but Galvin took care to ensure there’s a little something for everyone in expanding the selection for the winter months, pulling from some of Tilt's greatest hits. 

“We went back and forth with Dan,” says Galvin of Surly’s resident pinball guy, whom he describes as an enthusiast of the game who owns some of his own machines. “We [tried] to come up with a list that both, like, balances some titles that you're not you're familiar with as well as some of the cool, original themes or licenses from the ’90s that are, just, now they're like classic.” 

The spread designed by Galvin/Tilt blends immediately recognizable games like The Addams Family, Indiana Jones, Star Trek – The Next Generation, and more alongside gold standards of the genre like Attack From Mars, Theatre of Magic, and Cirqus Voltaire. 

Even if you’re not signing up for the Monday night winter league, this expanded bank of machines will be there for everyone to play, any time the pizza level is open for business.

Galvin is just happy about there being more pinball in the Cities, even if this ends up being a one-off in the grand scheme of things. 

“We’re just a small operation [at Tilt] but really passionate about all stuff pinball, so if they can spread the word and get some awareness out there, and some small percentage of the people that see their stuff wind up coming here,” Galvin would be pleased.

And if Tilt sees any trickle over into their ongoing Tuesday night leagues? Even harder to be mad at that.


Surly Pizza Upstairs Winter Pinball League
Monday nights, 7 p.m.
January 13 - February 24, 2020
Free entry (+coin drop)
Rolling entry, Registration form here