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Welcome to Pinball Intrigue, where I indulge my fascination with the silver ball. Here you will find posts regarding my pinball experiences, pinball machine repairs and mods, a virtual pinball build, and links to other pinball sites.

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Monday, August 15, 2016

Portland, Oregon: A Place For Pinheads

I've lived most of my life in the Portland area, and I've admitted that prior to my trip to Ground Kontrol in 2013, I hadn't stepped foot inside an arcade since the early 90's. After my trip to Ground Kontrol (and my return a year later), I had spotted a post on Pinside talking about the best places around Portland to play pinball. What I didn't realize was exactly how big Portland is regarding the pinball scene. So after doing some digging, what did I find out?

It's pretty freakin' huge.


That moment of realization came when I finally decided to go to Pinballmap.com. I had heard about this site from Pinside, but although it has been around since 2009, I had never checked it out until recently. Per their website:

"PinballMap.com is a crowdsourced pinball locator, showing all the public pinball machines in select regions of North America. Pick a region to find pinball machines to play near you! Help keep your map up to date by adding and removing machines from locations, and by submitting new locations that aren't already listed."

So when I first pulled up the site, I wasn't sure what to expect. There was a list of regions, with each region reporting the number of locations that have pinball machines and also the total number of machines. As I looked through the list or regions, I was impressed by the number of locations and machines in some areas...the Bay Area was truly impressive with 257 locations and 602 machines, but it is a huge area, and traffic is crazy, making it tough to get from some places to others. It also includes the Pacific Pinball Museum with its 86 machines. Chicago, Pittsburgh, and Seattle also have an impressive number of machines, and Wisconsin has a ton of locations, but it's a listing for an entire state. But then I got to Portland, and my jaw dropped.

293 locations, 711 machines.


Here are the top 5 regions for "number of locations" on PinballMap:
Wisconsin - 312
Portland - 293
Bay Area - 257
Chicago - 204
Los Angeles - 190

And the top 5 for "number of machines":
Portland - 711
Bay Area - 602
Pittsburgh - 522
Chicago - 504
Wisconsin - 491

Portland is the 28th largest city in the U.S., but it is beating every city that is bigger than it is, in both locations and number of machines, and is beating entire states with big numbers (Wisconsin, Colorado) in number of machines.

So I started looking at where these machines were located to help me focus on where I would like to visit to do future writeups. Some locations are on the coast, some are in Salem, some are across the Columbia River in Vancouver, Washington, and a few are in the Columbia Gorge/Mt. Hood areas, meaning they are a good 30-60 minutes or more from downtown Portland. Even with those 100+ machines subtracted, there are still about 600 machines in the metropolitan area, which is incredible. If that's not enough, there are also 3 other regions listed for Oregon - Eugene/Springfield, Southern Oregon, and Bend - so Portland is not the only location for the state.

Oh, and one more thing about about PinballMap: it was developed by a couple of guys named Scott Wainstock and Ryan Gratzer, who live in - you guessed it - Portland.


Unsure of where these machines in Portland were located, I decided to take a closer look at individual locations. On PinballMap, once I had selected Portland from the main screen, I clicked on the "city" button, then used the pulldown to select Portland, and for kicks I used the other pulldown to select only the locations with 5 or more machines (which was the maximum I could sort by). It returned a good sized list, so I decided to sort that into a top 5 by number of machines:

Quarterworld Arcade: 31 machines
Ground Kontrol: 26 machines
C-bar: 15 machines
Blackbird Pizza: 12 machines
Pinball Outreach Project (POP): 12 machines

I eliminated POP as an immediate potential destination because it mostly features electro-mechanical and early solid state machines and primarily focuses on children. I replaced it with Scoreboard Sports Bar, which has 11 machines. I then wanted to see what the closest and largest destination near me would be, as I'm about 45 minutes from most of these locations and Vancouver (Washington) is much closer. Unfortunately the pinball scene in Vancouver is not quite as robust. Only two locations had 3 machines, none of which I wanted to play. The rest of the locations had only 1 or 2 machines.

So instead I asked myself, which machines would I like to play that I have never played before? On PinballMaps, instead of clicking on the City button, I clicked on the Game button. From the dropdown menu I could then choose specific games. In alphabetical order, I looked up the following:

America's Most Haunted (The Lovecraft Bar)
Congo (Quarterworld)
Demolition Man (Quarterworld)
Game of Thrones (Apex, Blackbird, Quarterworld, Scoreboard)
Ghostbusters (Apex, Quarterworld)
The Hobbit (Apex)
Independence Day (Lion's Eye Tavern)
Pinball Magic (Trillium Cafe in Hood River)
The Walking Dead (C-bar, Ground Kontrol)

The Trillium Cafe is too far and Lion's Eye isn't worth the trip just for Independence Day. So I decided that my next destinations to explore will be Quarterworld, C-bar, The Lovecraft Bar, and Apex. Although Apex doesn't have a lot of machines, the ones that they do have are on the list above - and I'm eliminating Ground Kontrol since I have been there twice already and want to check out something new. In addition, Apex, Blackbird, C-bar, and Quarterworld are within minutes of each other.

Another great thing about using PinballMap: if I wanted to open a pinball destination, it shows me what areas are starved for pinball, and what games are missing from the local area. Hmm...


Portland is home to multiple pinball organizations:

Crazy Flipper Fingers are an intense, passionate pinball gang (not a club!), most of which are great pinball players. Joining the gang means sacrificing your initials - when members get high scores they are required to enter "CFF" on a machine - which explains why machines all over town feature the initials "CFF" on their high scores. However, in return they get cool nicknames, like "Spinner", "Orbit", and my personal favorite, "Deathsave".

Rose City Pinball is a group that promotes pinball in Portland. They organize local tournaments which primarily take place at C-bar, which are IFPA sanctioned events, and have a bounty hunter program, where they name the machine and you try to claim the prize by earning Grand Champion on the machine.

Portland Pinball League is a pinball league promoting social and competitive pinball play in Portland, Oregon, and the surrounding areas. They play pinball every Wednesday at various locations that have 4 or more tables.

Flip City hosts weekly pinball tournaments in a casual, friendly atmosphere where all skill levels are welcome.

PDX Pinball is a Facebook pinball group.

Belles & Chimes PDX is a women’s pinball league based in Portland that was inspired by the original Oakland, CA league.

Pinball Outreach Project is a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the lives of children by sharing the history and excitement of the game of pinball. They bring pinball directly to children in hospitals, schools and community centers, make pinball accessible to children by offering a family friendly venue to play free pinball, and provide a free space for non-profits to host events that benefit children in need.

Portland Retro Gaming Expo: a non-profit cooperative organization dedicated to creating awareness of and appreciation for classic video and arcade games through the presentation of events and conventions that celebrate the historic contribution video games have made and continue to make in popular culture. They have organized a yearly convention every year since 2006.


Portland has a number of tournaments and events occurring throughout the year. They are as follows:

Flip City (weekly): casual, friendly tournaments for all skill levels
C-bar Brewers Series (monthly): tournaments sponsored by craft breweries and Rose City Pinball
Portland Pinball League (weekly): very casual tournaments open to everyone
Super Selfie League (monthly): $6/month, submit selfies with high scores to qualify
Portland Pinbrawl (yearly): top players in high level competition at Ground Kontrol
Portland Retro Gaming Expo (yearly): a tournament held at the annual PRGE convention


Well, there you have it. Portland has a thriving pinball scene and culture that seems to be growing stronger every week. Although I'd love to play competitively, even as an average player, I just don't have the time, especially for the distance I'd have to travel. What I did learn during my research for this post is that there are some great places to explore when I have time, and I also acquired some other information to file away for future posts...

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