There may be larger arcades, or facilities with more game cabinets, but Ground Kontrol is the best video game arcade on the West Coast. Unlike Japan, America has largely given up the video game arcade as a community recreation option. The convenience of home gaming consoles has made it hard to find arcade machines anywhere except in pizza parlors by the restrooms. Gone are the Saturday mornings spent under the cathode glow with pockets stuffed with coins and a cheerful cacophony of bleeps and bloops in the background. Portland, Oregon has always dared to be different, and Ground Kontrol has kept the gaming tradition of the arcade alive.
Ground Kontrol has created a vibrant, social atmosphere to enjoy classic arcade and pinball machines by sheer force of love, nostalgia, and pixelated goodness. When other arcades across the nation were shutting their doors for good, Ground Kontrol reinvented what an arcade was by adding a bar, and hosting live DJs on the weekend. There is something glorious about a pinball machine with a beer cup holder, and I’m not sure why it took until the late 2000’s for someone to figure that out .
Ground Kontrol has gone through many configurations, and even locations. It was opened originally in 1999 by a couple of record store employees. For a while, they also reconditioned and resold classic consoles and games like the Super Nintendo and Genesis. Having beer taps was a recent development, but helped create a weekend night spot for those with chiptunes and pixels in their hearts.
Last year, Ground Kontrol was one of three arcades to participate in Stride gum’s Save the Arcades 2 contest. I’m proud to say Portland came through, and Stride Gum gave Ground Kontrol $25,000 toward renovations. With that money, and much additional funding, they created a true gamer’s paradise. Vaulted ceilings accented by neon arc over a seating area reminiscent of Mos Eisley. A curved staircase escorts one up to the expanded loft, where many more cabinets and pinball machines await. Even the restrooms are amazing. The glow from the sink (yes, the sink glows) illuminates the pacman sprites in the tile. There is now a kitchen in the back to serve food along with beer and Viso.
Most importantly, the staff and management manages the mix of arcade games expertly. There is something for almost everyone. Whether you are looking for Centipede, Konami’s X-men, Tron, or just Cruisin’ USA, Ground Kontrol probably has it. The newest addition which is placed front and center is 4 player Pacman Vs. This fast paced game pits 4 players as differently colored pacmen on one maze. The ghosts don’t stand a chance.
If you live in Portland and have even a passing interest in video games, you must stop by and see the newly redesigned Ground Kontrol. If you are visiting the Rose City, it should be one of your three stops along with Powell’s Books and Forest Park. Ground Kontrol is an arcade experience that is not trapped in time like a museum, but allows you to experience the golden age of arcades in an exciting fresh setting.
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