Ground Kontrol Arcade: Portland’s Coolest Hangout
I recently had a chance to have a chat with Ground Kontrol employee Dawn Manske. Ground Kontrol has been around for nearly 10 years, its current incarnation — v 3.0— is the most elaborate and visually stunning version yet; having been designed to emulate TRON. And the bathrooms are all Pac Man themed!
I celebrated my 30th birthday at Ground Kontrol this past August and have spent a ton of time playing games and hanging out since then. My personal favorite games are the Doctor Who & Twilight Zone pinball machines and the muli-game machine that has Tetris, Bubble-Bobble and one other that I can’t remember because I never bother to play it. They don’t start serving alcohol until 5pm so I have been able to bring my 7 ½ year old with me on a Sunday afternoon, he likes the big Pac Man battle game the most, with the Doctor Who pinball as a very close second. The old school Star Wars arcade games are a little too hard for him and make him angry.
Many celebrities visit Ground Kontrol when they come to Portland; most notably Wil Wheaton and Chris Hardwick. Both of whom have tweeted about it to their followers on Twitter.
NerdsinBabeland: It’s notoriously difficult to get a job at Ground Kontrol, how long have you been working there and how did you swing the job?
Dawn Manske: I have been working at GK for almost a year. But, I have been in love with GK for almost six years! I spent my 21st birthday gaming with a few tumblers of wine, it was glorious. Itis true, it is not easy to get a job here. The big reason is, there just isn’t a lot of turnover here! Even with all the mundane stuff of a normal bar/arcade/retail environment, everyone really does like their jobs at Ground Kontrol, myself included.
How I got the job was purely perfect timing and happenstance. I have been friends with some of the staff for a bit and when they were looking for a new weekend person right after the big remodel finished, I was shoulder-tapped as I had some extra space for a second job. I will say this, you must genuinely be into gaming and a genuine fan of Ground Kontrol to work here and, knowing a few people never hurts. 😉
NIB: What is your job at GK? Do different people do different things or is it mostly even across the board?
DM: My official title is arguably the coolest one of all titles at Ground Kontrol, which is that of the Game Warden. I work mostly day times, meaning I deal with the kids and have time to deal with games if they need some loving. I sell classic console games when people are here to buy and keep things in as much of an orderly state as I can. In addition to my official title, I also am much of the voice behind GK’s Facebook and Twitter postings as well as various promotional work. On most Rock Band Tuesday nights, you can also find me whipping up all the tasty geek noms for people. Sometimes, I do fun stuff as a GK representative too. Like, when I got a photo with the uber-ridiculous Tommy Wiseau in one of my Ground Kontrol t-shirts and on November 18th I will be one of the art judges for Captain Picard Day.
If my own position is any indication, many other employees span across a few different positions too; we all have our awesome uses to make GK as consistently awesome as possible.
NIB: Tell me about the remodel, how did that impact your hours/work?
Honestly, I was hired partially because of the remodel. But, knowing the state of the place very well prior to the remodel, I am confident the remodel is nothing but a positive impact. A lot of things got streamlined due to it, making the work environment easier to manage.
NIB: Before the remodel bands used to play there (my husband’s band being one) what kind of special events go on now that full on metal boy shows don’t happen anymore?
Now that traditional band shows aren’t really a feasible option here, GK has gotten pretty creative with what it can do. The aforementioned Rock Band Tuesday lives on and the DJ sets have amplified, it doesn’t hurt the upgraded sound system is amazing. Every last Thursday we do the Videogame Quiz Show, it’s pretty intricate and fun to watch, complete with a custom buzzer system and sweet video game sound effects throughout. Recently we hosted Keith Apicary for an awesome live nerdcore show as well as hosting a couple of the fancy new Transformers pinball tables for their traveling promotion. I would love to see us get more nerdcore artists to do shows here, as they don’t require the same kind of space as a full band and they are of course– super nerdy!
NIB: How do you obtain new games?
I know the owners all have some games, for their personal use and it’s often through happenstance a new game falls into Ground Kontrol’s lap. Recently, a private owner of the classic Twilight Zone pinball sold the table to GK. In its roughly 17 years of existence, it had never been played publicly at all. Needless to say, this gem is in the mintiest of mint condition and has been quite popular since it’s lived at GK.
NIB: What are your favorite games?
My favorite arcade cabinets we have: Crystal Castles, Rampart, Pole Position (R.I.P.), Tetris, and Championship Sprint. Pinball tables: Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Bride of Pinbot, Twilight Zone, Lord of the Rings, and Theatre of Magic.
Ground Kontrol Classic Arcade
511 NW Couch St.
Portland, OR 97209
Open Noon-2:30AM Daily
All Ages Admitted Until 5PM
21+ & I.D. Required After 5PM