Quarter World Arcade
Already a Portland Classic
By Matt Harding
Opened in 2016, QuarterWorld Arcade is already a Portland, Ore., staple with its pinballs, mix of vintage and new games and a Tesla coil that really gives the place a jolt. Though QuarterWorld is only six years old, the arcade was a long time coming since its proprietors were in the business for decades.
QuarterWorld owner Philip Ragaway is a long-timer in the bar industry, having started one called Bar of the Gods in 1996 and operating several since.
The director of operations at QuarterWorld, Logan Bowden, met Ragaway in 2006 as a door guy at a bar and soon came aboard Philip’s team as a maintenance worker for his properties (in addition to the bar biz, he was – and continues to be – involved in various other commercial ventures).
In 2007, Bowden took over QuarterWorld, the name of Ragaway’s small route operation. Bowden explained that ever since Bar of the Gods, Ragaway started putting a few pinballs and other “neglected classics” in his venues.
“People began to seek him out to have him put the games into their bars as well,” Bowden said. “It was just intended to be sort of a ‘beer money’ sort of scenario – a side hustle. It was a small operation and eventually it got up to about 20 locations.”
Today, the route operation has grown to 225 locations in Oregon – mostly within the Portland metro area. They have bars, of course, but even operate adult-themed video games in strip clubs (after all, Portland has the most of those venues per capita in the country). They offer a full line of amusement and vending services. A fun location, coming soon, is an art studio with a gift shop that’ll have a QuarterWorld crane with pieces of art inside.
While the route is still a big part of the QuarterWorld name, it’s no surprise that their own namesake arcade has stolen the show.
But the idea behind the route is what continues today at the arcade. “Our mentality was you need pinball and this weird game we found and got working again,” Bowden explained. “A game is a walking, talking museum. You have to have these old nostalgic games.
“Every age has their own sort of memory with arcade games – whether it was in a bar, in your local mall or in a full-on arcade. We had arcades in the late ’80s, early ’90s and then they sort of disappeared and now they’re back and they’ve brought booze with them. It’s about reinventing.”
While the bar opened with 98 games, they’re down to 89 now, having gone with some newer and bigger titles to fill the space, including the recent purchase of a StepManiaX dancing machine. “It’s been non-stop since we brought that into the arcade,” Bowden reported.
A strictly video game-pinball arcade, QuarterWorld just brought in a crane for the first time, but with a quirky stipulation – it’s filled year-round with Halloween plush. “We really go all-out when it comes to Halloween,” he said. “It’s definitely the arcade’s favorite holiday.”
Bowden noted their most popular games are a boxer, plus Jurassic Park and Mario Kart. Recently, they also added a Buck Rogers: Planet of Zoom (Sega, 1982) that was doing really well. “It did amazing. I love when I bring in an old game and it goes toe to toe with new ones.”
He also mentioned Crazy Taxi, NBA Hoops, House of the Dead and Addams Family pinball as a few other popular machines. (You can see a full list of their games at www.quarterworld arcade.com.)
“We’re constantly looking for fun street games for bars,” Bowden said, adding that he’s especially keen to find games that “break the mold” like Buck Hunter, Golden Tee and the more modern Pac-Man Battle Royale.
Personally, Bowden is a fan of more obscure games like Ninja Baseball Bat Man (Irem, 1993). He had that game shipped over from Japan and built a cabinet around it (and also excitedly met the designer at a recent IAAPA Expo).
A favorite from back in the day is Double Dragon (Taito, 1987). “I grew up playing that game in a little town in Maine. There was this one place we would go, and it had one arcade game and it was Double Dragon. I put in every quarter I could find.”
Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that QuarterWorld leans a little more into the classic realm – about 60% of their games. Early on, they favored pinball, too. However, that changed in the first year or so. “As people start to come in and you start looking at numbers, you learn really quick that it’s their arcade and I need to cater to them.”
Still, the classics are a big draw in the arcade and on the route, and Bowden goes to great lengths to continue that QuarterWorld tradition of lovingly restoring neglected games. “I have a Paperboy (Atari/Midway, 1985) that I’ve been working on for five years,” he shared. “First, I found the cabinet. Then I found the handlebars. A lot of restoration goes on in the background.”
QuarterWorld’s other attraction is their Tesla coil – “our niche thing,” Bowden said. “We don’t have a bowling alley and we don’t have mini-golf, but we have a Tesla coil.” Each month, they host a “Tessie show” that pairs music with the artificial lightning display.
Food and beverage-wise, Bowden noted that coming out of the pandemic, they decided to “streamline and revamp” what they were doing, offering a smash burger and chicken strips in addition to their previous corn dog and pizza offering. They’re also known for their slushies. A couple of cocktails on their menu include Peach’s Lemonade, Buck Huntin’ and Dragon Slayer.
Equally important to the arcade, the food and beverage makes up about 50% of revenue. Alcohol sales slow down a bit during the bar’s family time, which offers an all-ages look into the arcade.
It’s a diverse mix of people who show up to QuarterWorld – from families on weekends and 20- and 30-somethings at night to social media influencers and shut-ins who basically only come out to play battle games. Two times a month, the bar also hosts a trivia night that brings out different crowds based on the theme (“Nintendo” was a recent one). They also hold monthly pinball tourneys.
QuarterWorld charges a small admission fee and accepts (you guessed it) quarters… but also allows for paper cash and payments via PayRange.
Visit them in Portland or online at www.quarterworldarcade.com.