Many young transplants know only the big white tents of Denver International Airport as the city's aviation hub. But before DIA opened in 1995 (behind schedule, of course), Denver's main airport was called Stapleton, and it was located in what is now the Stapleton neighborhood (which makes sense, right?). Most traces of the original airport have been eradicated over the years, but the air-traffic control tower has continued to loom over the area, begging for some ambitious entrepreneur to come along and resurrect the building into something modern and useful.
That day has come: Punch Bowl Social founder Robert Thompson has been working on the Stapleton project for nearly three years, but he's finally ready to unveil a new outpost of his bar/restaurant/entertainment concept at 3120 Uinta Street.
The new Punch Bowl Social (the tenth nationwide and the second in Denver, after the original at 65 Broadway) will kick off with a grand-opening party from 7 to 9 p.m. on Saturday, November 18. The event is already sold out, but if you don't mind being out a little late, you can sneak in after 9 p.m. for free. And if you managed to score a $20 ticket to the party, know that the full price of admission is being donated to We Don't Waste, a Denver-based hunger-relief program
Thompson's masterpiece takes up 32,000 square feet on two floors of the building, which has been heavily overhauled to make room for five bars (three indoor and two outdoor), six bowling lanes, multiple seating areas and a kitchen with two lines. Surprisingly, it's not the biggest member of the PBS family — that honor goes to the Portland, Oregon, location — unless you include the expansive outdoor beer garden and patio areas, which hold two bocce courts, a shallow "turf pool," fire pits and stadium seating.
Along with such familiar Punch Bowl accoutrements as a circular bar, deer-antler chandeliers, private karaoke rooms and a video-game arcade, the place will be loaded with airport references, some from the original Stapleton Airport. Thompson says that ever since construction began, Denver residents have been sending him memorabilia they saved after the airport closed, including restroom signs, old airplane flight-safety cards and even one of the terminal signs. There will also be a menu board built to mimic a vintage airport arrivals display (called a split-flap display, in case you were wondering) and other airline-themed decorative elements.
On the east side of the building, there's a second-floor patio that looks out onto Stapleton's Central Park, intentionally built facing away from homes on the opposite side of the building to keep noise levels down. Thompson says he's met with neighbors frequently during construction to get input on how the restaurant can best fit into the community.
The third floor of the building is dedicated to Punch Bowl Social's new corporate offices, but beyond that, the control tower is off limits. The elevator doesn't go past the third floor, so the tower itself is not ADA-compliant, and it's unlikely that it ever will be. Even so, part of the construction budget is going toward repairing damage on the outside of the tower to return it to its former glory. Some of the original architecture on the ground floor was also salvaged at considerable expense, even though the building is not officially protected as a historic landmark.
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For food and drink, expect much of the same comfort-food and Southern menu designed by chef Hugh Acheson of Top Chef fame, who signed on as culinary partner with Punch Bowl Social in the summer of 2016.
After the big unveiling Punch Bowl will be right back at it at 8 a.m. on Sunday, November 19, and then will operate on shortened hours beginning Monday, November 20, opening every day that week at 4 p.m. except on Thanksgiving Day, when it will be closed. Starting November 25, brunch service will be added at 8 a.m. every Saturday and Sunday. And on November 27, lunch will be added at 11 a.m. Monday through Friday.
Punch Bowl Social plans to truly be a social gathering place for Stapleton, staying open until midnight Sunday and 2 a.m. Monday through Saturday, though you must be at least 21 if you want to stay past 10 p.m. For more information, visit the Punch Bowl Social website.