On Saturday, October 6th, 2018, a group of desperate humans (tired of the day-to-day rigmarole) decided to find a BETTER place to be—and we succeeded! Actually, my younger daughter had turned 21 a few days before we went, and my wife was about to have a birthday as well, so it was a double celebration, and we thought Ground Kontrol in Portland would be fun. (We’ve been before, but after a certain time of day, it becomes a bar, so this was the first time Elise could be there at night!)
Ellie is a bit of a misanthrope, so she was uncertain if going to a bar was a good idea, and the place WAS crowded—elbow to elbow as you pushed through the first bar area. (You could see the LOOK in her eye as we paid to get in, only THREE BUCKS each, and then stepped into the THRONG. There was a substantial line for the bar, but we needed to wet our whistles (as the designated driver, I had a soda) and get some smaller bills for the coin dispenser. (Some arcades use tokens, but Ground Kontrol is old fashioned and uses plain-old quarters… The first line of Buckner & Garcia’s “Pac Man Fever” just went through my head!!! “I’ve got a pocket full of quarters and I’m heading to the arcade…”)
(Photo by Frankie Hanson)
(Some DUDE photobombed us—so I took care of HIM!)
So what IS Ground Kontrol? It’s a classic arcade in the 80’s style, with vintage games (more on that later) and pinball machines and loud music and the sounds of laughter and joy filling the air. We were there on a Saturday night, and they had a DJ playing synthpop / synthwave and various retro-electro tunes, which was cool, and the cover was an extremely modest $3.00 (U.S. currency) to get in. Most of the games that I played only cost a quarter a piece to play, although some of the newer games and pinball machines were more (I think it was 75 cents for one game of pinball,) so for about $8.00 per person, or less, you can have a great time for HOURS. In fact, if you’re not drinking huge quantities of alcohol, the most expensive part of the evening was paying to park. (Parking in Portland, Oregon, is SHITTY, and it will usually cost you anywhere from $7.00 per night to $15.00!!! Be prepared…) But, parking costs aside, a trip to Ground Kontrol is cheap fun, brings back a ton of memories (if you’re old as Hell, like I am,) and their games are in great shape!
These are a few of the machines that I spent some time with:
I managed to get the high score on Lady Bug early in the evening, and that score stood the entire time we were there. I couldn’t get higher than 2nd place on Asteroids or Ms. Pac-Man, but I was still in the grips of my cold, so my reflexes weren’t that sharp. (I’m blaming the illness!) Ellie and I had a battle for the Donkey Kong scores, and I couldn’t get anything together in my first few tries. Didn’t even dent the charts. After we’d been there a while, Mariah came by the table (which we’d established as base camp—I did a lot of drawing and writing that night, between games) and told me that Ellie had gotten the 4th and 5th place spots on the Kong charts! Because I’m old and proud, I went back to the machine and (like a jerk) took away the 4th spot with the ONE good game of Kong I had all night. (Ellie wasn’t pleased—but she’ll train harder and come back, one day, to beat me!)
Moral to the story: a couple of drinks, some family and friends as company, and a couple dozen classic video games is all it takes to make the world a happy and exciting place. We all agreed that we had a TRULY good time!
Interesting note, there was some cool Pac-Man tile work in the bathroom, which Mariah suggested I take a few photographs of—but I didn’t want to be the guy who got ARRESTED taking photos in the bathroom! So I opted to WRITE about the cool restrooms instead of getting visual evidence. Yeah, check out the bathrooms if you go to this arcade. Very cool.
And that’s about it. The family had a great time, it didn’t cost much, the atmosphere was exceptional, and the games were fab. It can get a bit crowded, and the music (especially in certain rooms) can get VERY loud, but the youngsters might think that’s a good thing. (I would LOVE to DJ there!) Elise, who was skittish of going to a bar, had the MOST fun of all of us, even chiding us a bit for wanting to go home so early. (We were there until a little after 11:00 P.M.) She is already planning a return trip as soon as her SIGNIFICANT OTHER comes home from school. I always have a good time at Ground Kontrol, and for those folks who haven’t been to the place since they’ve remodeled and expanded, it’s is HUGE now! Two floors, numerous rooms to explore, two bars, lots of seating, and a TON of games (classic and new.) If you’ve got Pac-Man Fever, there’s really only ONE place that can scratch that itch with any style. Ground Kontrol be it!
—Richard F. Yates
(Primitive Thoughtician and Supreme Bunny Lord of The P.E.W.)
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