"GROUND KONTROL NEVER looked or felt as good as it could have," says Art Santana, manager of the Portland arcade. Not like that's kept Ground Kontrol (511 NW Couch) from becoming Portland's go-to spot for classic videogames and pinball—somehow, in a post-PlayStation era, Ground Kontrol managed to carve out a retro-cool niche as one of the best arcades in the country.
But like most arcades, Ground Kontrol's focus was never on aesthetics—the important things were the games, the beer, and events like the Portland Pinbrawl competition and karaoke-style Rock Band nights. That changed last week, though, when Ground Kontrol unveiled $200,000 worth of improvements.
Twenty-five thousand of that $200,000 came from Stride Gum's promotional "Save the Arcades" contest, which Ground Kontrol handily won last June, thanks to GK customers playing an online game, Cowbots 2010, and donating their points to Ground Kontrol. But cowbots can only do so much. "To borrow a computing term, we basically reskinned the entire arcade!" Santana says. Some of those changes aren't that flashy—a new kitchen, new flooring—but some of 'em are. There's a slick, Tron-inspired aesthetic; a lounge area next to the bar (complete with Ten Forward-style light tables); and the bathroom tiles rock pixel-style Pac-Man art—Pac-Man for the men's, Ms. Pac-Man for the women's. "Never did we think that our bathrooms would be one of the most talked-about features of the new GK!" says Santana.
Still, Ground Kontrol kept their priorities. "At first glance, it does look like we sacrificed a lot of game space for the lounge area—but it's actually not true!" Santana says. "We lost nine games and gained seven, with one more on the way." (One of those additions is Pac-Man Battle Royale, a frantic, brand-new, four-player Pac-Man game. If you haven't played it yet, do.)
In addition to the new look, games, food menu, and booze, which they promise is forthcoming ("Soon, we hope!" Santana says when I impatiently ask him about it), there are more changes on the way—and it might not stop there. "The original plans also called for an expansion of the mezzanine floor, but it was far too expensive," Santana says. "Maybe someday."
For more photos—including one of the Ms. Pac-Man bathroom!—see the slideshow above.