After nearly three years of construction, Punch Bowl Stapleton opens Saturday, November 18 at 9 p.m. in the iconic Stapleton Air Traffic Control Tower building. It is the 10th location for the Denver-based concept, but only the second in Colorado — with others in Cleveland, Portland, Austin, Detriot, Schaumburg, Rancho Cucamonga, Indianapolis and Minneapolis.
While all Punch Bowl Social locations have a touch of mid-century modern design, founder Robert Thompson explained that this location is “dialed up to an 11 out of 10.” Combined with efforts to preserve and reuse elements of the original space, the space is a fun combination of aviation and adventurous color and design. In short, it’s an Instagrammer’s dream.
The 32,000-square-foot space has the largest outdoor seating of any Punch Bowl location, perfect for lounging in the sun with friends by the blue “astroturf pool” or playing ping pong, giant Jenga, corn hole or bocce ball on its two full-size courts. On the inside, there’s a playground of activity options, including six bowling lanes, darts, giant scrabble, two private karaoke rooms, a photo booth, shuffleboard and bonzini — an eight-person Italian version of foosball.
As far as the aviation tower goes, it’s closed off for now because it’s not ADA compliant, but it’s not off the table for the future.
It’s not just fun and games at Punch Bowl Social, though. The food is serious business. This is in part due to the culinary partnership with famed chef, Hugh Acheson — James Beard Award-winning chef, author and Top Chef judge. The menu is stuffed with decadent options that can best be described as delicious, dignified diner food, featuring lots of options for sharing with big group — from the 10 shared plates to the three “Big Baller Platters” which serve three to four people.
Plates for sharing include the smaller themed “In Flight Snack” ($2) chile-lime fried peanuts to larger options like the Lobster Bacon Fries ($15) — need we say more about those? Vegetarians will love the plate of It’s Nacho Mama’s ($11) — corn tortilla chips topped with queso fundido, roasted cauliflower, fresh jalapeño, pickled red onion, jalapeño crema and cilantro.
While there are sandwiches and mains ranging from a classic burger or seriously sloppy joe to pot roast and chicken pot pie, the can’t-miss dish is the Colonel of Truth Platter ($45). Made for groups, this behemoth has a 12-piece bucket of “OMFG” gluten-free fried chicken (breaded in rice flour), with bread ‘n butter pickles, house-made slaw, buttermilk biscuits and a hot sauce butter.
For lunch, we recommend the “Preflight Check” special — which is any breakfast, salad or sandwich item (not counting the lobster roll) served with a beer, Bloody Mary or house martini for $15. It’s available Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. until 2 p.m.
The restaurant also serves brunch on Saturdays and Sundays from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. —with options like its sticky, gooey monkey bread French toast ($12) — and happy hour Monday through Friday 3 to 6 p.m.
In a place that could have easily relied on beer, Punch Bowl Social did not make beverages an afterthought. Following the same sharing theme, the restaurant serves four different punch bowls — our favorite was the Watermelon Polo Bowl ($36 serves four, $72 serves eight) with Sauza Blue Reposado Tequila, Teakoe’s Watermelon Spearmint Tea, McClary Bro’s Watermelon Shrub, housemade strawberry syrup and fresh lime juice. Served in antique glass punch bowls, it’s made for sipping outside by Punch Bowl’s faux pool in the sunshine. Among the selection of boozy milkshakes, fresh alcohol-free juices and cocktails, there’s a special sipper made just for the Stapleton location that’s a must-try if you like gin. The classic Aviation ($10) has Breckenridge gin, creme de Violette, Luxardo Maraschino and fresh lemon juice.
There’s no question Stapleton has taken off this year. Now, with Stanley Marketplace, Punch Bowl Social and restaurants from big-name chefs including Troy Guard and Elise Wiggins, what was once an area centered around an airport has now become one that’s clearly focused on food.
Punch Bowl Social Stapleton will open to the public at 9 p.m. on Saturday, November 18 after the sold-out opening party benefitting We Don’t Waste. It has modified hours the week of Thanksgiving, but its regular hours will be Monday through Friday 11 a.m. – 2 a.m., Saturday 8 a.m. – 2 a.m. and Sunday 8 a.m. – midnight. Guests must be 21 or older after 10 p.m. every day.
Unless noted, all photography by Danielle Webster.