ground kontrol may have been in existence since 1999, but i wasn’t introduced to its greatness until 2006, and even then, by accident.
a friend had suggested going to “this arcade” one night and i was in. little did i know, i was about to be introduced to one of my very favorite places in portland.
ground kontrol is located in the historic old town/chinatown district of portland, oregon. from the outside, you can hear the beep boops of classic games, and once inside, it’s a pixel wonderland.
i discovered that not only was the entire bottom floor classic arcade cabinets, but the second floor was mostly pinball machines, with a few cabinets filling in the gaps (they boast over 90 machines, total). i immediately sought out dr. mario, quickly followed up by bubble bobble. so much happiness!
after frequenting the arcade for some months, i became aware that, periodically, they rotate out certain cabinets. this gave way to all kinds of new/old experiences which made coming back each weekend all the more exciting.
in 2010, a major remodel took place. once complete, the arcade had a far more tron-like aesthetic and looked as deliciously ’80s as one could hope for.
but in 2011, i think they really hit their stride. they opened a full-service bar as well as an actual menu, with the latter being video game themed. you could partake in their combo menu (hot dogs, sandwiches), mini-bosses (nachos, hummus), power-ups (pretzels, chips), and the bonus round (desserts). on top of those delectables, there are frequently themed specials based on a featured game or a film showing in the background.
one of the more whimsical aspects of the remodel was the pac man bathroom. translucent, backlit counter top lighting surrounds the sinks, and the floors are tiled to look like pac man maps. these restrooms were so well done, that the designer was presented a 2011 merit award for her work.
(here is another look at the stellar flooring in the restrooms. yes, this would be the first, and only, time i’ve taken photos of a restroom floor!)
and, as if ground kontrol weren’t amazing enough, they have regular events such as: metal mondays, rock band tuesdays, tronix wednesdays, free play nights (2nd thursdays and last wednesdays of each month), no pun intendo (comedy nights), video game quiz shows, and various other good times.
i’ve had some truly excellent memories at ground kontrol, from the time i played WAYYY too much pinball (i actually hurt my wrists…no joke), to beating my first arcade cabinet (carn-evil!) and everything in between. no trip to my hometown is complete without at least one visit here. it’s gotten to the point that my friends, when in town, will shoot me a message if they stop in (“i’m playing bubble bobble for you!”).
the other aspect i love is that, while it is 21 and over after 5pm, it is all ages from noon until 5. i’ve seen more than a few people bring their kids in to let them experience what the gaming scene was like in their heyday. and what could be better than sharing such an experience as what inspired you to love video games?
for more information, check out their website at: http://groundkontrol.com/