Unless you're the type who frequents sports dives across the city—and, if you are, we probably know you, so hi—you might not have noticed that Portland has a huge number of bars with skee ball. The loss of Slabtown made us curious about other skee-ball lanes in the city.
4822 SE Division St., 234-0181.
Skee situation: Twin 10-foot lanes, 25 cents, change machine available, scoreboard in good working order.
You'll start picturing the inside of this Division Street dive from the sidewalk, where a chalkboard advertising skee ball sits below primer-gray wood siding that's lined to accentuate the building's boxiness. Inside, yup, it's what you pictured. A cozy front bar crammed with bar stools and a Camel machine opens into a Scooby Doo ghost arcade of forlorn pinball cabinets (Congo, Addams Family), a pupil-busting new Big Buck HD and two skee-ball lanes. In the back, three men sit on green pleather office chairs that Gordon Gekko might have sat on in 1987 (and passed down to his assistant in 1989) watching college football. There's a jukebox with a "No Music During the Games" sign stuck to it. The clinging, clanging skee-ball lanes also appear annoying, but these guys aren't the type to complain. The board is smooth and in solid working order, there's plenty of room to throw or drunkenly make out against a pinball machine. Yup, this is pretty much the best bar skee-ball experience in town.
Whiskey Dolls Game Room
317 NW Broadway, 432-8944.
Skee situation: Twin 7-foot lanes, brand spanking new, with balls smoother than Isaac Hayes and a mere 25 cents to play. Just as nature intended.
The old Tiger Bar space—onetime home to 35-year-olds who just couldn’t give up nightclubs—had a four-month stint as a drag burlesque hall called the Royale before folding. It has now been revived as a blindingly lit game-room bar, with a 10-deep row of arcade consoles (multiple variations on Star Wars), five pinball games including a truly frightening psychedelic one called Gorgar, a sit down snowmobile game, Big Buck HD Duck Dynasty and, of course, skee ball. The bar staff looks as if it played war games for real in high school, and the soundtrack was an entire 3 Doors Down album, but man: Those skee-ball lanes are pristine, and people-watching among the mismatched clientele was broad sport. One guy was loudly espousing long theories about the evolution of mankind, two others seemed to have fallen out of a “tiny hats” theme night somewhere else, and three women obviously bound for Old Town wobbled mightily in high heels while trying to wind up their skee-ball pitches.
2239 SE 11th Ave., 236-3592, blitzladd.com.
Skee situation: Some of the town’s oddest lanes, a hybrid skee-ball/pop-a-shot game called Basket Fever where players roll orange balls toward little hoops with point values between 10 and 100, 50 cents, in good working order.
Blitz Ladd is probably Portland’s best sports bar, a labyrinth of big screens, couches, stools and picnic tables fueled by a better-than-respectable draft list and a killer club sandwich. Go to the far west corner and you’ll find the Basket Fever lanes, which are just like skee ball from the rolling side but with little basketball hoops for scoring.
1800 E Burnside St., 236-2876, theeastburn.com.
Skee situation: The two 7-foot lanes in the basement are mesh-topped and hilariously ill-kept, with balls as lumpy as turnip sacks. Meanwhile, balls keep getting stuck in the left machine, while the right machine keeps score with all the accuracy of a vote counter in small-town Louisiana, cheating the score down by 10 with alarming consistency. But they decorate the machines for Halloween, and on Mondays skee ball is free and unlimited.
EastBurn is probably best known for its hanging wicker chairs that must cost a bundle in insurance, but downstairs is a hidden—and often mostly empty—second bar that’s sort of like the basement clubhouse of a
disappointed man. There’s four-player Pac-Man Battle Royale with drink holders, Big Buck HD,and a golf game. No one was playing any of them on our recent visit, and the bartender seemed confused by our interest in skee ball. And when we played skee ball, we understood why.
724 E Burnside St., 971-373-8593, thewurstpdx.com.
Skee situation: Two slightly worse-for-wear 7-foot lanes, colored red, 25 cents. The left one has a crack in the seam and a resulting rapid ramp that seems to home in the balls on the 30 spot, while the right one has unpredictable warping.
The Wurst is named after bar-menu sausage that nobody orders—and sometimes it’s easy to think the name is a pun—but it serves as an all-too-essential valve for the neighborhood, a clearinghouse and
drunken fun center for the in-betweeners, sports fans and Midwestern-style it’s-all-goodniks who just want to play some pool, pop off a few shots on the Big Buck with a crisp IPA balanced
precariously on top of the console. The mood is kind of like a party at the edge of a small town, the sort that anybody can show up at as long as they’ve got a sixer.
4825 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 445-4635, tankerbar.com.
Skee situation: Single 10-foot lane, 25 cents, fancy newfangled scoreboard with scrolling lights.
Arguably the classiest bar in upper Hawthorne’s Barmuda Triangle—not an oft-argued subject—this sports- and game-themed pub has a modern sit-down Pac-Man game and Street Fighter II, and plays Blazers games at maximum volume. There are a few decent local beers on tap, and the bourbon pours are heavy. There’s not really room for a second skee-ball lane here, but it’s a lot less fun to play by yourself.
Grand Central Bowl
808 SE Morrison St., 236-2695, thegrandcentralbowl.com.
Skee situation: Twin 6.5-foot lanes, two tokens (50 cents), disorienting colors.
The place was pretty much empty on a Monday night, but when it gets busy, your skee-ball game could feel a little claustrophobic. That’s partly just because it’s an arcade, which means cramming as many games, lights and noises as possible into a small space. But there’s also a long table right behind the row of games that includes the skee-ball lane, so even when there were only two other people there, we had to stop tossing balls to let them squeeze by.
3871 SE Division St., 233-3739.
Skee situation: Twin 10-foot lanes, 25 cents, no change machine, scoreboard lights are burnt out and wonky.
Tom’s sports bar, like the neighboring Tom’s diner, is a throwback to Old Division that’s close enough to New Division to make it a relic. The front sidewalk might as well have a smoke machine on it. The bar itself is a wide room stocked with pool tables, faux-leather booths and video poker machines. Malfunctioning scoreboard lights make the lanes all but useless.
500 SE 8th Ave., 232-6504.
Skee situation: Single 10-foot lane, 25 cents,
scoreboard works, but the 100-point hole on the right side does not
register (it will give you the ball back, though).
They call it the Slammer for a reason: The ceilings are low, the space is tight, the food contains the bare minimum of legal nutritional value, and when you go the restroom, the whole building knows it. It’s one of Portland’s perfect dives, but the avid skee-baller is going to feel stifled. Shoved away in a narrow corner next to an AC/DC pinball machine, a cigarette dispenser and a Baby Pac-Man game, the skee ball feels like trying to bowl in a broom closet. There’s not even enough room to get full rotation on a toss without bashing your funny bone on a table. Some actual prison rec rooms probably have a better setup.
500 NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., 232-9977, spiritof77bar.com.
Skee situation: Twin 13-foot lanes, 25 cents, no front cage and easy on the lights.
According to the drawing of a heart-tipped penis on the chalkboard by the darts, Spirit of 77 wouldn’t be a bad place for a bro date. Penis drawings aside, it’s a laid-back sports bar that is softly lit and warmly wood-paneled. It only has one large screen and two flanking TVs that play sports, so it’s pretty much the antithesis of a typical dingy, over-stimulating sports bar, which is nice if you want to focus on your skee-ball game. It’s also one of the few nice places to hang out after dark in the Lloyd District.
The Foggy Notion
3416 N Lombard St., 240-0249, thefoggynotion.com.
Skee situation: Two average lanes—the coin slot on the right one didn’t work.
Back in March, North Lombard dive the Foggy Notion was visited by Belly Up!, a Cooking Channel show that reinvents bar-food menus. Though the dome-hockey table and psychedelic pony paintings were removed—and an uninspired knockoff of the White Stag sign added—the one skee-ball machine remained intact. With Prince and Ozzy Osbourne record covers decorating the counters and a big ol’ stack of board games that includes Battleship, Scattergories and Bibleopoly (âwavering faith sends you back 7 spaces), this 4-year-old outpost has character beyond its years, plus a soundtrack of 70s punk.
Punch Bowl Social
340 SW Morrison St., 334-0360, punchbowlsocial.com.
Skee situation: Twin 10-foot lanes, $1, plays unintentionally distorted music that maybe is supposed to sound like an electric guitar but instead just sounds like a coughing demon.
It’s a little tricky to find Punch Bowl Social’s skee-ball machines: They’re tucked into the right corner of the game room that’s diagonal from the door. Just getting to the place means you have to venture through dreaded Pioneer Place and travel all the way up to its third level. But once you finally get to the skee-ball machines, they’re in their own little enclave with a single seating area, making it really easy to monopolize the space (and thus the machines). The machines look pretty new, but one was out of order when we were there, and the music sounded like there was something seriously wrong with it.