At Punch Bowl Social, Virtual Reality Is a Shared Experience

Virtual-reality gaming is more fun when shared at Punch Bowl Social.
Virtual-reality gaming is more fun when shared at Punch Bowl Social.
Amber Boutwell
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Strapping on an alien-like headset attached by a cord to the ceiling while donning digital-screen goggles and headphone flaps that cut off the outside world isn’t something I’d normally think of doing with friends — especially when doing so means entering a virtual world where my virtual self is fighting for her life, targeted by enemy invaders.

But Punch Bowl Social, the Denver restaurant, arcade and overall “fun zone for adults,” is giving the increasingly popular phenomenon of virtual-reality video games a unique social spin. The new addition to the Denver-based company's location at 65 Broadway debuted on Wednesday, July 18.

“I think we’re at the forefront of a trend,” says a representative of the eatertainment venue.

This Punch Bowl Social has added three new virtual-reality “parlors,” each with a defined area for players to move around as they slice fruit in a 3-D rendering of the popular iPhone game Fruit Ninja; fight off frighteningly realistic zombies in the post-apocalyptic world of Zombie Trainer; or fend off enemy invaders with a bow-and-arrow in Elvin Assassin. Behind the gaming area in each enclosed parlor, there's a couch where friends and family can watch while enjoying food and drinks. PBS offers ten games, which will probably be switched around as the venue discovers what guests enjoy most.

Robert Thompson, the founder and CEO of Punch Bowl Social, had been intrigued by the potential in virtual-reality gaming since it first came on the scene. But since Punch Bowl is all about the “social” part of gaming, he wanted to make sure that any virtual-reality offerings didn’t appeal solely to hard-core gamers, or isolate guests in a corner.

Escape reality at Punch Bowl Social on Broadway.
Escape reality at Punch Bowl Social on Broadway.

I still felt somewhat alone dropping into a 3-D world, especially with noise-canceling headphones. But it is definitely entertaining to sit back with some delicious tacos and watch your friends flail around, stricken with excitement or fear, as they try to fight for their lives or slice that watermelon. The player is immersed in the virtual world — but the viewer just sees a friend in a headset making motions at a game on a screen. 

The parlors at Punch Bowl Social join the Denver Museum of Nature & Science's new educational virtual-reality arcade and Head Games VR in Lakewood at the forefront of Denver’s virtual-reality scene.

Up to eight guests at a time can rent out a parlor by finding a tech-support servicer dressed as “Waldo,” who will set up the game for them. Renting a parlor costs $20 for a half-hour and $35 for an hour when the restaurant opens at 5 p.m. weekdays; during peak hours on evenings and weekends, the price moves up to $25 per half hour and $45 per hour. For more information, visit Punch Bowl Social’s website.

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