In other cities, it might be possible to name a business "Retro Game Bar" without causing much confusion.
In Portland, you need to be more specific.
Are you talking about the bar in Old Town with the classic arcade games, or the one on Southeast Hawthorne? Or do you mean the place on Northeast Sandy with all the pinball machines? Oh wait, there's also one on Southeast Morrison. Is that the one? Or maybe you mean retro board games? Because there are, like, three of those.
So yeah, the concept of Retro Game Bar—the name is actually a sly reference to "RGB," or "red, green, blue," the analog video signal built into old-school game cartridges—isn't exactly novel. It does, however, tweak the execution. While Ground Kontrol and Quarterworld pry at memories of dropping two months' allowance at the nearest pizza parlor, this shoebox-sized hangout feels like going over to the house of that one friend who somehow had every hot game for every console in existence.
In this scenario, those friends are owners Jason and Shira Yovu, who've dug into their personal collection to turn the small space into a living monument to video game history, at least through the late '90s. Vintage TV sets are spread around the room, equipped with everything from an ancient Atari 2600 to a Sega Dreamcast—there's even a lonely TurboGrafx-16 in one corner. Two couches sit in front of big screens for group Mario Kart sessions, while solo visitors can pick up controllers right at the bartop and play on monitors above the servers' heads.
The choice of games is currently fixed—on our visit, they included the first Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 64, the Duck Tales game for the original NES and The Ninja for the Sega Master System—but according to a bartender, the plan is to eventually allow patrons to pick out specific cartridges.
Appropriately for a place dedicated to tickling childhood nostalgia glands, the food menu is made up entirely of hot dogs ($5-$8), whose variants include a Seattle Dog, with cream cheese and caramelized onions, and a surprisingly strong Banh Mi Dog.
Expectedly, the cocktails have cutesy names like Ocarina of Thyme ($7) and Kirby in Stumptown, which comes with a spherical grapefruit-flavored ice cube that gradually melts into the mix of tequila and elderflower liquor—a neat gimmick that ultimately doesn't justify the $12 price tag.
Really, though, if you're coming here for any reason other than to slip into cozy familiarity, you're doing it wrong. But if you're killing time before a show at High Water Mark across the street—or if Mom and Dad couldn't find that NES Classic you wanted—its charms are hard to resist.
DRINK: Retro Game Bar, 6720 NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., 971-271-8079, rgbpdx.com.