photos by K. Marie

At the risk of sounding like a curmudgeonly mid-millennial, I have to admit I find myself yelling to youths as they skateboard past my porch: “What the hell is esports? People gather around to watch other people play video games now? Why?”

Then again, watching regular sports is arguably the same brand of meaninglessness, so what’s the difference? Curious, I decided to infiltrate the gamer masses at Outrage, Portland’s premier esports bar. To guide me, I brought along a younger friend, a lapsed gamer with a refined palate for energy drinks and a knack for recognizing obscure flavors of Mountain Dew by sight.

It shouldn’t be surprising that the dominant vibe at Outrage is not unlike a regular sports bar: It’s a huge place, full of people with a common pastime. And as at a sports bar, that pastime is neither cocktailing nor cuisine. Food and drinks are secondary to entertainment—they aren’t the show.

But neither, actually, is the show. Yes, Outrage streams major esports tournaments and otherwise constantly features popular gamers’ feeds on TVs all around the space. But computers also line two walls, and roomy couches cordon off public booths around popular consoles. What a sports bar can’t do is give you a hundred yards to run a football. But Outrage can roll out a Rainbow Road or fire up a fighter jet, lace your boxing gloves, and load your laser gun, all while plunking down an ever so slightly elevated mac and cheese and a pint of local beer. (And yes, Outrage is 21 and over, for better or worse.)

In a lot of ways, my friend reminds me, Outrage is like the one kid’s house where everyone hung out because their parents were rich and they had all the video games. The kind of place with a mini-fridge full of unnaturally green drinks and various forms of microwaveable cheese.

Do I want to drink an “Energy Potion,” Outrage’s vanilla vodka, Midori, and Red Bull cocktail? No, but does my secret gamer friend melt into a couch, lock eyes with a weirdly hypnotic Tetris game on a big TV, and spend a full hour happily trying to nail down which specific candy that cocktail makes her nostalgic for? You bet your bleached blonde swoopy bangs she does.

And honestly, after hearing the bartender rattle off how many recent 36-plus-hour stretches he’d spent awake, the cocktails are not the sugar-and-taurine bombs I expected. The No-Scope punches up a classic tequila paloma with grapefruit liqueur and plenty of lime to stay bitter enough to be drinkable, the First Blood is a blood orange cosmo, and there’s even a Buffalo Trace old fashioned and an Irish coffee on the menu.

Food, meanwhile, aims pretty utilitarian and mostly stays there: fries covered in quickly hardening cheese, burgers, and tacos—embellished with sriracha ranch or kimchi aioli, the kind of DIY fusion panache of that kid who claimed to have the perfect fry sauce recipe that was just ketchup and a proprietary blend of Taco Bell hot sauces.

The most perfect pleasures are those dishes that feel like something a parent would have brought down to that upper middle class basement: quesadillas, a giant ice cream sandwich, and especially the house-sauced mac and cheese, which is slightly grown up (read: cavatappi noodles and breadcrumbs), but tastes so authentically like the stuff from the box that I’m reminded of a friend in college marveling at a block of cheddar being grated into a pot of Kraft: “You can put cheese in mac and cheese?”

At Outrage, like at a sports bar, it’s always easier than you think to embrace the part of yourself that everyone around you wants to embrace: the kid who wholeheartedly cares about fun, who doesn’t have to reconcile the game with the problematic player, who has to stay up for 48 hours at a time because sleep is mortally boring. Plus, that goddamn Tetris game has like a thousand levels, so keep the energy potions coming, bartender.