The best grown-up arcades in Portland, Oregon
Ground Kontrol Classic Arcade
Children of the '80s will geek out hard at Ground Kontrol, the standard by which all vintage arcades should be judged. We're talking about five dozen classic video games on the main floor and at least two dozen pinball machines upstairs, with a full bar open from 5 p.m. till closing. The games are the main draw at this Old Town hangout, but there's plenty more to do here if you're so inclined. On a given night you might find DJs spinning electronica, geeks gathered for pub trivia or comedians performing during the No Pun Intendo stand-up showcase. Even cooler: Free Play nights (the second Thursday and last Wednesday of the month), when a $5 cover gets you unlimited gaming.
A newcomer on the scene in 2016, Quarterworld took over the old Alhambra Theatre space, which had seen a rotating cast of colorful tenants in the previous decade. Things seem to have stabilized now, with the arcade's two rooms drawing young and old for classic and modern video games, pinball, TV triva and more. You'll want to bypass the all-ages Q-Lab and head straight to the 21-and-up Q-Lounge, where you can down The Cersei (mulled wine) or a Doctor Manhattan (the classic cocktail, with a seasonal twist) while snacking on an eclectic menu including pizza, banh mi, kimchi and cotton candy.
Punch Bowl Social
If you're at all nostalgic for '90s mall culture, Punch Bowl Social might remind you to stream "Mallrats" when you get home. Lucky for you, this gaming palace on the third-floor rotunda of downtown's Pioneer Place mall offers food and drink that's, literally, on another level from food court fare. We're talking poutine, street tacos or chicken and waffles, all with farm-to-table flair. Wash it all down with an adult milkshake or one of the spiked punches that lend Punch Bowl Social its name. Once you're full, burn off some calories in the arcade, bowling alley or karaoke parlor, then settle in for some tabletop gaming to round out your adult-at-play experience.
If you aspire to pinball wizardry, hit up this corner pub on Gladstone Street in Southeast Portland. A relaxed neighborhood joint with a comfortable patio, C Bar doubles as one of the hottest pinball rooms in the Rose City. Check out its 15 games while enjoying a rotating selection of craft beer and a menu filled with comfort food. Once a month C Bar's pinball action heats up even more with its brewers series tournaments, sponsored by breweries including Hopworks, Breakside and Ninkasi.
My Father's Place
BraunS via Getty Images
It doesn't get much kitschier than this sprawling bar and game room in the Southeast Industrial District, which may have been a Midwestern diner in a former life. Walk past the patrons un-ironically drinking PBR; pay no mind to the wood paneling, taupe Formica tables and vinyl-padded booths – you're here to play. There's a pinball lineup to rival C Bar's, upright arcade games, a few pool tables, video poker and a TV room with big screens in case you want to take a break to watch the big game.
Bowling and noshing get top billing in this Buckman neighborhood venue's name, but the second floor at this inner Southeast Portland bowling alley features a solid game room, too. Ambiance-wise it's closer to the "dirty modern" design of Punch Bowl Social than the bingo-parlor feel of My Father's Place. Arcade games include Big Buck Hunter HD, Fruit Ninja FX and Operation G.H.O.S.T. There's also pool, pinball, air hockey, ski-ball, pop-a-shot and shuffleboard. Consider stopping by on Throwback Thursdays, when Grand Central pays homage to the '90s with retro movies and music, plus half-priced arcade games after 8 p.m.
On Belmont Avenue in the Sunnyside neighborhood, Wunderland at the Avalon Theatre houses a discount movie theater (most screenings are just two or three bucks) and a game room packed with nickel arcade games. It's dark, loud and grimy inside, plus you may have to navigate around kids toting the contents of their piggy banks. But if you're traveling on the cheap you'll find that $20 feels like $200 at this popular Southeast Portland spot.
A longtime writer and editor, Jillian Martin moved to Portland before "Portlandia" backlash was a thing. She lives in Southeast with her husband, kids and tabby cat.