May 30, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Nick Wittmann has always enjoyed video arcades. Ever since he was a kid, he loved their bright flashing lights, their cacophony of bells, crashes, and digital explosions. Pinball machines, in particular, were his favorite.

When he moved back to Omaha during the winter of 2009, after a few years in St. Louis, he moved into a West Omaha townhouse. When it came time to decorate the basement, he wasn’t quite sure what to do. He grew up with a pool table and poker table in his parents’ house, and he thought he might like to continue that tradition. The finished part of his approximate 700-square-foot basement, however, was not big enough to fit a pool table.

He started thinking back to his favorite part of the arcade, the pinball machines. He started his basement remodel with a 1981 Gottlieb pinball machine called Black Hole. Wittmann remembers “I got it because it was the first multiple-level playfield,” which refers to an upper level and lower level of play.

“You buy one, you’re not going to end with just one,” Wittmann recalls being warned before he bought this machine. The warning became prophetic. Within a year he obtained his second pinball machine, another Gottlieb game called Dragon.

Fast forward to 2017. Wittmann’s finished basement is now home to four pinball machines, and a driving arcade game, Rush 2049 (on the basement’s north wall). A bar-top touch screen trivia machine rests on the bar. There’s also a Nintendo Vs. System, which contains several classic games, including Super Mario Brothers and ExciteBike. On the south side of the room, a 65-inch home theater, Neo Geo game system, and standing Pac Man machines add to the home-arcade atmosphere.

To complete the arcade basement, he has a fully stocked bar with coin-operated candy dispensers filled with Peanut M&Ms.

During special occasions, Wittmann will bring out his popcorn maker.

“I wanted to create something for everybody,” Wittmann says about the variety of games in his basement. “I always liked the driving games, shooter games. But my favorite has always been pinball machines.” This philosophy has guided the cultivation of his growing collection.

At a time when Gen Xers and millennials have begun to revisit their childhood hobbies, places like Benson’s Beercade (6104 Maple St.) have gained popularity.

While kids growing up in the 1980s dreamt of having their own personal arcades, contemporary youths are spoiled with gaming options so easily accessible on smartphones. Wittmann’s basement, however, is a gathering space to replace staring down at hand-held screens.

His basement arcade is not only a haven for his generational nostalgia, it is a gathering place. The collection allows Wittmann to relive part of his youth, and he only has to walk down a flight of stairs for the experience. 

This article appears in the May/June 2017 edition of Omaha Home.