Denver residents don't shy away from chilly weather, so even in December and January, you'll find brave souls on the city's patios, huddled around a fire pit or facing a wan winter sun to soak up some rays while gripping a pint of beer in a gloved hand. But patio season doesn't really kick off until weather patterns stabilize enough to ensure that outdoor diners and drinkers don't get a blast of snow or icy wind. Mother's Day is as good a gauge of when to plant yourself on a restaurant patio as it is of when to begin putting out your potted plants, and by Memorial Day, every seating area under the sun holds hordes of fresh-air fans.
This year, outdoorsy types have a new playground. Punch Bowl Social unveiled its stunning Stapleton "eater-tainment" destination — built from the old Stapleton airport's control tower — last November at 3120 Uinta Street, allowing a few precious days of open-air dining over the past five months. But now we all have the patio itch, and PBS is scratching it for us, with the biggest outdoor area in town.
"It's doing great — above expectations," says founder Robert Thompson of Denver's second Punch Bowl Social (in a group that now counts thirteen locations, including the first at 65 Broadway, with the fourteenth coming on line in San Diego in June). Also unexpected: the Preservation Edge Award presented to PBS on May 9 at Colorado Preservation Inc.’s 2018 Dana Crawford and State Honor Awards. The 32,000-square-foot venue was honored for preserving the legacy of the airport as well as many of the control tower's original elements, among them the precast panels that originally adorned the exterior of the building. “Thompson’s vision reflects the golden age of aviation, incorporating stylistic elements throughout the restaurant, such as the original terminal signage and baggage tags incorporated in art installations,” the award language notes.
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But the outdoor area is really ready for takeoff this summer. PBS Stapleton's patio wraps around the south and west sides of the two-story restaurant beneath the control tower. (Unfortunately, that isn't open to the public: How fun would that be?) Walk-up bars face the sun as it tracks across the vast Colorado sky so you can grab a drink while getting your dose of vitamin D. Some of the patio is clad in kelly-green artificial turf topped with retro deck chairs — the kind with woven nylon strips stretched over aluminum frames. There's also a faux swimming pool with blue turf standing in for water, so you can sit on the edge with your feet dangling over, or fight for a couple of seats in a full-sized paddle boat (no paddling necessary).
Beyond that, the patio holds two bocce courts, ping-pong, giant Jenga, a fire pit and, of course, the ubiquitous cornhole boards. Big blue letters spelling out "Denver, Colorado," from the city's original airport, top stadium seating that the kiddos can crawl on to their heart's content. At 14,000 square feet, the entire space feels more like a mini-resort than a restaurant patio.
To make the experience a little more like a picnic, Punch Bowl Social offers three "Big Baller" platters ranging from $45 to $65: the "Dawgy Style," with kobe beef hot dogs and tacos; the "Colonel of Truth," a bucket of fried chicken with biscuits and sides; and the "Maine Squeeze," four lobster rolls with house kettle chips. Of course, you're going to need a beverage in hand, whether an adult milkshake or one of the eatery's namesake punch bowls, which can serve up to eight like-minded drinkers. Just as they are inside, large groups are welcome on the patio; call 720-500-3788 for reservations and more information.