Did you know Portland has more pinball machines than any other city in America?
It's true. According to the website Pinball Map, there are 855 machines located within city limits. That's more than New York City, Los Angeles, Austin—and just about a dozen more than Seattle.
Apparently, though, it's still not enough.
Between Ground Kontrol, QuarterWorld and every bar attempting to evoke a retro-punky aura—which, contrary to public grousing, still accounts for a hell of a lot of real estate in this town—you'd think there'd be no room for any more businesses combining gaming and drinking. But in just the past few months, two new pinball parlors opened within just a few miles of each other. Not only that, but Portland's first bar dedicated to "eSports" also established itself downtown.
Whether you're into Super Smash Bros. or smashing flippers, in Portland, you've got a lot to choose from. So which of these new arcade bars is worth your time and quarters? We visited all three to find out.
3728 NE Sandy Blvd., 503-477-7637, wedgeheadpdx.com. Noon-midnight daily.
It's hard to walk into Wedgehead and not feel the pangs of loss associated with the abrupt shuttering of legendary punk hang the Know, but the warm nostalgia of the retro pinball parlor that's taken its place carries its legacy as well as anyone could ask for. Retro movies that caricature counterculture often feature spiky-haired malcontents crowded around pinball machines, and in that regard, Wedgehead, which was opened last month by local pinball enthusiast Chris Rhodes and Alan Robertson, a former kitchen manager of Bunk Sandwiches, does well as the former occupant's successor. The layout is roomy and easy to navigate, and you'll rarely wait in line to enjoy a few plays of kitschy Gottlieb classics like Tropic Isle, Alien Star or, our favorite, Target Alpha. The X factor at Wedgehead is the kitchen, which serves a no-nonsense menu filled with shareables like wings ($8), a killer plate of underpriced nachos ($6) and big, sloppy burgers like the Dangerfield ($12), which features smoked bacon and Gouda under an ocean of sweet and smoky barbecue sauce. As simple as they are, the real attraction at Wedgehead is the fries ($5 for a side), which are coarse-cut and come with an addictive curry ketchup that may be the only housemade variety available in town that's an actual upgrade over Heinz. It's the perfect snack for your crew to nosh on while you dump your tip money into the popular Iron Maiden: Legacy of the Beast cabinet, which is probably the most telling capitulation of the irreverent, old-school vibe Wedgehead is aiming for. PETE COTTELL.
Play this: Iron Maiden: Legacy of the Beast, a high-speed clusterfuck of frenetic riffs and fast-paced bonus balls that no hesher can resist.
617 SE Morrison St., 503-206-6586, high-score-arcade.business.site. 3 pm-midnight Sunday-Thursday, 3 pm-1 am Friday-Saturday.
Occupying a shoebox-sized space two doors down from the owners' other venture, gringo taqueria Robo Taco, High Score feels less like an arcade bar than a pinball-geek man-cave that's open to the public. It has the shambolic quality of an ongoing DIY homebuilding project. Beers—plus canned wines, cold brew, Ablis CBD soda and, somewhat incongruously, sake—are pulled from underneath the bartop, and the décor is made up of backdrops from old machines, a couple succulents and a framed portrait of Igor from Young Frankenstein. A rotating roster of 15 games, most from the '70s and '80s, take up much of the available wall space. It isn't a spot conducive to long hangs—there are only three booths and no food options, despite previously announced plans to offer frozen burritos. But Southeast Morrison already has plenty of convergence points. High Score isn't a destination but a pleasant diversion, the sort of place you dip into to kill an hour and crush a tallboy before meeting the gang at Star Bar or Creepy's, and maybe end up perched at the Flash Gordon cabinet a little longer than anticipated. MATTHEW SINGER.
Play this: The knee-high Night Moves machine has a disco theme and a catchy analog-funk soundtrack that'll get stuck in your head, provided you can hear it over the Lou Reed playlist on the house speakers.
424 SW 4th Ave., 971-229-1477, outragepdx.bar. 5 pm-2 am nightly.
Let's keep it real from the jump—if your interest in video games paused somewhere around the minecart level of Donkey Kong Country, you probably aren't ever getting within a block of Outrage on purpose. Even for the average gamer, the concept of an "eSports bar"—where people congregate not just to play games but watch them be played—probably seems pretty niche. But given the genre's growing mainstream visibility, and the fact that nostalgic olds can find a Street Fighter 2 cabinet on every other block in this city, it's a niche Portland probably needed filled. Lit up like a froyo shop, Outrage's layout is somewhere between a traditional sports bar and a college rec room. There are three living room-style setups, with couches and coffee tables in front of flat-screens outfitted with PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch and Wii U for group play, along with a bank of a dozen PCs for solitary competition. The menu is made up of standard pub grub, with 10 taps of the usual, housemade cocktails with names like First Blood and Wombo Combo, and a full slate of Red Bull flavors, the Gatorade of the digital athlete. Above the bar, two screens are tuned into Twitch streams, where you can watch dudes with names like Spooky and Tasty Steve battle for Super Smash Bros. supremacy. What exactly is the appeal of watching two guys in their living room mash controllers? If you have to ask that, then this just isn't your bar. MATTHEW SINGER.
Play this: Mario Kart, because duh.