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Madisonians can have a ball at the city’s old-school arcades

Pinball machines are lit up across the city, come along as we check out NerdHaven in Monona.

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NerdHaven in Monona has the 2nd most pinball machines in the state of Wisconsin. | Photo by 608today

Xenon. Pinbot. Medieval Madness. Fill your pockets with tokens and start playing. Orbitor One. Willy Wonka. Cyclone. Be careful not to tilt the game.

There are a plethora of pinball machines in Madison. In fact, Monona’s NerdHaven Arcade has the 2nd most pinball games in the state of Wisconsin.

The arcade is owned by locals John Karalis and Adam Wood. Karalis does the daily operations while Wood is the main head tech. Sometimes, after all, Pac-Man goes on the fritz and someone has to fix it. The two run the whole operation, but still find time to play Attack from Mars and Bubble Bobble.

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NerdHaven, in Monona, has regular pinball competitions for prizes. | Photo by 608today

The establishment, which opened in 2020, has 58 pinball machines and 133 video arcade games.

“We want to bring happiness,” Karalis says. “A haven to experience a moment of joy and excitement.” He continues, “It brings families together; giving them a place to come together to try something new…old video games.”

Wood concurs. “I wanted to create our own little portal that people can enjoy.”

Enjoy, Madisonians do, by sidling up to Gorf, House of the Dead, Zaxxon, Arkanoid, and more.

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The first modern-looking, coin-operated pinball machine was invented in the 1930s. It was created by the company Automatic Industries, which named it a “whiffle board.” | Photo by 608today

“Seeing people genuinely enjoying themselves is great. They end up finding a game they really like and having a blast,” says Wood.

A blast means, sometimes, blasting space invaders.

NerdHaven isn’t the only game in town for pinball and video arcade fun:

Aftershock Classic Arcade, 1444 E. Washington Ave., Madison
Wisconsin’s first dedicated classic arcade opened in 2000. The game room has all the classics and pinball games like Doctor Who, Monster Bash, and Phantom of the Opera.

Geeks Mania Arcade, 6502 Odana Rd., Madison
An assortment of video arcades are available to play, as well as pinball machines like Foo Fighters and Ghostbusters Premium. A $15 wristband gives you all day play.

I/O Arcade Bar, 924 Williamson St., Madison
Dubbed “Madison’s place for drinkers with a gaming problem,” I/O’s pinball selection includes Jungle Queen, Stranger Things, Deadpool, and more.

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