After more than 20 years of collecting pinball machines, Dan Nikolich’s basement had run out of space to store them all. So Nikolich opened the Colorado Pinball Pub in Littleton to share his collection.
“Pinball is a unique thing because it doesn't matter what your background or walk of life is, pinball will draw you in," he said. "It's a great equalizer because it only takes one ball."
While the concept of offering drinks and games at one location is nothing new, the Denver area is host to a number of unique takes on the Dave and Buster’s business model.
Colorado Pinball Pub is one of the newer additions to the arcade bar scene, having opened in 2020. The pub offers 22 pinball machines, plus a few classic arcade games like PacMan and Centipede, for unlimited play for $15 per hour.
Nikolich’s love for games started young, when he was growing up in Las Vegas and working for the MGM Arcade, so he was happy to see the recent rise in pinball’s popularity.
“Pinball is having a great resurgence right now. The last few years it’s been really hot,” he said. “We have parents who will bring their kids who have never played pinball and, at night, we get a lot of adults and date nights, stuff like that. All people seem to like pinball.”
Like the pub’s patrons, the pinball machines available range in age and theme, with Nikolich’s oldest machine being from 1981. The walls of the pub also pay homage to the history of the game, including its prohibition from 1940s to the 1970s, with pictures and news clippings.
In addition to pinball, the pub features over 150 kinds of whiskey, craft cocktails and Colorado brewed beer.
Nikolich said the goal is to have something for everyone and to make it approachable, whether that’s pinball or whiskey.
“We want you to come and learn about it and not be intimidated to ask if you don’t know something, we want to teach you, so that you can enjoy something new,” he said.
On the opposite side of the metro area, another one-of-a-kind arcade bar is Akihabara, which, while located in Westminster, transports visitors to the Tokyo gaming district that gives the business its name.
Owner Brandon Osha said he was blown away when he had the chance to visit Akihabara and take in its blocks of multi-story arcades.
“The first time I went to Akihabara I knew I wanted to bring that here because it’s amazing,” Osha said.
He did just that by opening Akihabara in 2016.
Similar to Nikolich, Osha grew up with a love of gaming and worked at a local arcade and GameStop. Instead of pinball though, Osha’s games of choice came in arcade cabinets, which he began collecting at age 16.
Currently, Akihabara offers 52 arcade cabinets with around 65 games, but Osha has plans to expand his location with 25 new games and additional space, which he said will be complete this summer.
Osha said the game selection, which includes fighting games, rhythm games and nostalgic classics, definitely sets Akihabara apart.
“You never see this many (arcade cabinets) in one place,” he said. “We have such a different variety of games that you won’t find anywhere else in Colorado.”
One of the stranger and more rare games Akihabara offers is a Japanese table flipping game called Cho Chabudai, but more well-known games include Third Strike, Monkeyball, Typing of the Dead and Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon. All of the games are $1 or less to play.
Osha said a lot of people come in seeking a specific game that’s hard to find anywhere else, but he encourages visitors to try whatever piques their interest, even if they can’t necessarily read the Japanese instructions.
“I think it’s a lot of games that people have never seen, but they might find something that they like,” he said. “Plus, it’s usually only three buttons and a joystick, so they’re not too hard to learn.”
Akihabara’s focus on Japanese culture carries over into the bar offerings, which include Japanese beers and cocktails made with Japanese liquor, as well as a variety of packaged snacks and ramen options.
Overall, Osha said he tries to provide a space that’s both niche and for everyone, describing the Akihabara crowd as a welcoming hodgepodge.
“If you’re looking to find a friend, you’ll find one around here somewhere,” he said.