Ready player one or not, Portland's got a brand-new arcade. This afternoon, Quarterworld (4811 SE Hawthorne) will open to the public, taking over the same space as the old Alahambra Theater. Slotting in alongside nearby institutions like Zach’s Shack and East Side Deli, Quarterworld seems to be aiming to carve a Coney Island-esque area out of Hawthorne's famed Barmuda Triangle. It’s a welcome addition to the neighborhood, especially after the recent departure of Sewickly's, which was closed at the end of Feburary to make way for (surprise) apartments.
Outside of some memorable Bridgetown Comedy Festival moments, I never spent all that much time in the Alahambra. But I was able to check out Quarterworld before its official opening, and can report that the new place has clearly put in the effort to clean up the premises, installing new floors and transforming the restrooms. While the Quarterworld lavatories might not boast the lavish Pac-Man tiles of downtown's beloved Ground Kontrol, they are considerably more classy that what came before. (I do worry that the ornamental wings on those fancy bird faucets might not be long for this world.) Also, Quarterworld's owners have decided to preserve the theater’s old stage area—while a Quarterworld rep alluded to the possibility of the space hosting shows and events down the road, I’m holding out hope for a restored and revamped Rock-afire Explosion, the creepy animatronic robot house band that played at Showbiz Pizza and was powered by the nightmares of children.
Quarterworld’s main room, the Q-Lab, boasts a wide array of food options. Pizza by the slice, Banh Mi sandwiches, and a wide-range of deep-fried goodies (including pickles and Oreos) should satisfy any munchie cravings. Meanwhile, beer is served in Quarterworld branded imperial pints and a full bar will keep you nice and lubricated while vanquishing foes and honing your inner pinball wizard. The Q-Lab section of the arcade will be open to all ages until the late evening, at which point it will switch to 21+.
I didn’t have the chance to explore the Q-Lounge portion of the arcade, which promises to deliver an around-the-clock 21+ experience for older players, complete with more "adult" games (your guess is as good as mine) and bar-oriented machines. The Alhambra lounge was a sizeable space in its own right, so expect plenty more over on that end once its up and running.
But whether targeted at kids or adults, the main draw of an arcade is always going to be the games—and that’s where Quarterworld aims to shine. Among the highlights are a pristine Ms. Pac-Man cabinet, a collection of 19 pinball machines (many of which I haven’t already seen all over town), and a four-slot Neo Geo MVS cabinet featuring Bust-a-Move and Metal Slug. The majority of the machines cost 50 cents to operate, with continue fees set at a quarter. Ample space between each cabinet means you won’t accidentally bust someone’s lip while attempting to bust-a-move, and while drink holders were nowhere to be found during the sneak-peak I attended, a Quarterworld technician promised tables to holster your drinks and snacks are on the way.
It only took one lap around the machines to spot the apple of my eye; a deluxe sit-down F-Zero AX machine modeled after Captain Falcon’s vehicle, the Blue Falcon.
Based on the Nintendo GameCube version of the racer, the machine is a rarity here in the States. It also happens to be one of the best arcade racers ever created. While the tilting seat on the machine seemed to be disabled, I’m excited to return with my GameCube memory card to see about unlocking some extras for my coveted home version of the game.
While Quarterworld’s dedication to preserving the past won’t go overlooked by any means, hopefully the arcade takes a cue from Ground Kontrol in terms of embracing the future. There were some newer game on display, such as a Panzer Elite Action cabinet boasting a dizzying and immersive full-motion tank simulation, and a Winter X Games: SnoCross machine, which incorporated some kind of Facebook and QR code integration, but that’s not what I’m getting at.
If you’ve stepped foot in Ground Kontrol recently, you’ve no doubt come across the 10-player behemoth that is Killer Queen. As one of the pinnacles of the recent indie game boom, Killer Queen’s five-versus-five play has become a phenomenon in arcade scenes. While Quarterworld may not be positioning itself to go directly head-to-head with Ground Kontrol on a business front, some eastside-versus-westside Killer Queen action could ignite a spark in Portland's arcade world. It’s spaces like Quarterworld that could help bolster the ripe—but as of yet untapped—potential in the world of newer couch-competitive indie games that are looking to make the jump from PC and consoles to arcades. I’m all for basking in the glow of the classics, but the idea of applying old-school charm to newer games and then throwing those games to the public makes me excited.
All that said, Quarterworld has something special in store for Portland gamers. It’s a space that knows what it’s going for, and it should fit in well with the upper Hawthorne and Mt. Tabor bar scene.
The arcade opens to the public today at 3pm. Admission is $3 per day, $10 per month, or $100 per year. And it's worth pointing out that you go the $100 per year route, you’ll have the opportunity to recoup that money on your birthday: If you RSVP in advance, show up to Quarterworld on your birthday, and bring along five of your friends, that $100 will be transferred over to a birthday bar tab for your group.