When Ian Matheson talks about pinball his eyes light up like the arcade games he loves. Several years ago, he says he and a friend teamed up with a pair of strangers to take on one of the pinball machines in the basement nook at Stillwell beer bar on Barrington Street.
“It didn’t matter that they were business guys in suits and we weren’t,” he says. “It didn’t matter who was actually playing when something happened. We were all in it together.”
Matheson started working at Propeller Brewing Co.’s 2015 Gottingen St. location about a year ago, and last night he unveiled the project months in the making: Propeller Arcade.
The arcade features 13 (soon to be 14) games. Most come from Matheson’s private collection; two are on loan from a fellow pinball lover. The games range in age from 2018 releases like Guardians of the Galaxy to 1980s classic Skateball, which features a supremely cool skateboarder with flowing auburn hair and a matching period-perfect moustache. Price per play ranges from 25 cents to $1.
Walking downstairs into Propeller’s basement feels like trespassing in an employees-only area. As you pass through the first beige room into a hallway, you hear the thundering clack of flippers and catch your first glimpses of flashing lights. Inside, black walls and a small bar keep the space simple so the games are the star of the show.
This compact space has a storied place in Halifax history. Before Propeller took over the building in the late 1990s, it was reparatory theatre Wormwood’s Dog and Monkey Cinema.
The arcade machines are in what used to be Wormwood’s lobby; the arcade’s small bar still features the window between the projection room and the theatre. Peek behind the bar into the theatre turn brewing set-up and you’ll see the decorative trim that lined the cinema’s ceilings. “The vibe was always here,” says Matheson. “We just had to dust it off.”
Given that the arcade is in a brewery, it’s only fitting that it has its own beer. Surf’s Up is named for the jaunty blond surfer on the tap handle, discovered kicking around the brewery. It’s a blend of staple Propeller beers Pilsner (30%) and Cascade Pale Ale (70%). The result is a crisp easy-drinking beer with a muted version of Cascade’s signature hop flavour.
The arcade opens to the public Jan. 31, with regular hours Thursday and Sunday, 4 p.m.–10 p.m; Friday and Saturday 4 p.m.–midnight. On Jan 26. the Halifax Pinball League will host its first tournament in the space.
Until now, says Matheson, the league held tournaments at members’ homes: “I can’t thank those people enough for hosting but going to a stranger’s house can be awkward. This should attract a lot of new people.”