Saturday, February 23rd, 2019

Arcadia National Bar brings the culture of nerd to Portland

Sam Hill

Posted on September 22, 2014 in Arts & Culture
By Francis Flisiuk

It’s time to take those drunken games of Mario Kart out of your dorm room and into a night on the town.

The recently opened Arcadia National Bar is drawing in consistent crowds of adults from several age groups, all of whom share a common love for drinking beer and playing classic video, arcade and pinball games.

Since the founding of the first popular “video game bar” in Brooklyn in 2004, barcades have gained popularity and popped up all over the country, with the newest entry in the social craze located right on Preble Street in Portland.

By combining a fully stocked bar including specialty drinks like “Falcon Punch” and over 25 old school video game consoles and pinball machines, the owners Dave Aceto and Ben Culver have created what many locals are calling a “very unique experience.”

“Our place is getting popular because the old games evoke some nostalgia, but it’s also somewhat hipster to go retro,” said Culver. “I love watching the reactions of different people when they discover what kind of games we have.”

“We’re just excited to bring the culture of nerd to everybody,” said Aceto. “We run the gambit of beer nerds, board game nerds, pinball nerds – it’s really got everything.”

Arcadia features a PS4, a Sega Genesis, a PS2, a N64 and several arcade and pinball machines from the early 80’s and 90’s like the Simpsons, Pokemon Stadium, Street Fighter and Donkey Kong, most of which only cost a quarter to play.

“When people see the Sega Genesis with Sonic loaded on it in the corner of the bar, they just hunker down and play for hours,” said Culver.

One side of the bar had a couple of people excitedly playing Sonic the Hedgehog Adventures on the Genesis, while next to them a larger group was spectating a particularly intense competitive match of DC Universe. When the Green Lantern eventually succumbed to Superman’s finishing move, the gathering of people actively watching the match cheered raucously while waiting for their drinks.

“There’s been a lot of yelling and shouting,” said Culver. “Games like DC Universe and Street Fighter are more geared towards competition.”

According to Culver, they’ve just acquired Super Smash Brothers but they won’t bust it out until they’re ready to plan leaderboards and tournaments.

“That game is a whole realm, it’s a world,” said Culver. “There’s a whole guild in Maine dedicated to that game.”

On a Monday night the place was packed with people all of whom said that they grew up playing with games Arcadia offered. According to Matt Grassi, a 24 year old Portland local, Arcadia is unlike any bar in Portland and it was inevitable for a place like it to spring up in town. For Grassi, the unique atmosphere lends itself to two things: a good variety of games and a bar free from awkward social expectations.

“A lot of gamer’s are really loners,” said Grassi. “This place is special because it’s the perfect social environment for people like us.”

Seamus McGrath was playing a strategy game called Faster Than Light on his Ipad with his brother Spencer leaned against the table watching him. McGrath said he was taking a break and unwinding from all the other games by playing, well, another game.

“I don’t have to fidget for quarters and I don’t have to worry where I put my drink,” said McGrath. “This is the only bar in Portland where you can just whip out your phone or tablet, play a game and not feel weird about it.”

According to his brother Spencer McGrath, Arcadia is a haven for the socially awkward and stated that if he were to play Minecraft on his phone at Nova Res, he’d be regarded as a weirdo. But here in a bar where his appearance was described as “scheduled,’” he’s right at home.

“This is a bar of distractions,” said McGrath. “If there’s ever an awkward pause after you’ve caught up with the life of an old friend, you can just say ‘oh hey looks like they have Galaga’ and there’s your out. I actually have something to do rather than awkwardly walk away from you.”

Kayla Cogle, a Portland resident said that Arcadia provides a comfortable environment akin to one’s own living room.

“If you’re sitting alone people will come up and sit on the couch like they know you,” said Cogle. “This place is a blast even if you’re socially awkward and aren’t good at small talk.” Cogle sat along a Mario-land decorated wall and remarked how familiar all the games felt.

“I grew up with the N64 and being obsessed with Pokemon,” said Cogle. “I know all the games here.”

“It’s the only place in town you can actively do something while you drink,” said Joe Harmon, who was intensely concentrating on an arcade game called “Ice Cold Beer.” The game required raising and balancing a marble on top of the bar as you try to navigate through ten specific holes. Once ten levels have been beaten, the victor earns a free beer from the bar.

“I haven’t seen anyone do it yet, and I’m determined to be the first,” said Harman.

Apart from all the games, there are future plans to hold beer tastings and cosplay events at Arcadia. Game and beer lovers like Harman and Cogle said that they’ll definitely be back another time and are happy to meet new people here.

“I usually like anything combined with beer,” said Harman. “I’ve met some really nice people in here.”

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