New downtown 'eater-tainment' space aims for big punch

Louis Aguilar
The Detroit News

Detroit — Punch Bowl Social seems an apt symbol of the youthful, exuberant ambition flowing in the rebounding swath of Detroit.

Slated to open Dec. 10, this diner/bowling alley/video arcade/craft cocktail lounge/brew pub/karaoke bar/corporate party space is one of the biggest retail entertainment concepts to hit downtown in a long time.

Punch Bowl Social is opening on the ground level of the new 1,300-space, 10-story Z Lot parking structure that zags its way through an entire downtown block between Library and Broadway, Grand River and Gratiot. The parking lot with ground floor retail was built by downtown mogul Dan Gilbert.

It will take up 1.5 acres of space. That's the equivalent of 4½ basketball courts or about 10 Coney Islands. At 24,000 square feet, Punch Bowl's footprint is 3,000 square feet larger than Whole Foods Midtown.

"It's really makes sense once you are in it," said Robert Thompson, the 43-year-old founder and CEO of this Denver-based concept he describes as the latest in "eater-tainment."

And it makes sense it's opening in Detroit right now. In the 7.2-square-mile swath of "greater downtown" that is steadily attracting new residents, new office workers and new places to eat and drink, no one seems to know the limits of the growth. Rents to live in the area — downtown, Corktown, Midtown, Lafayette Park, Eastern Market — keep going up as demand grows. Restaurants, bars and hotels continue to pop up.

Plans keep getting bigger, such as the proposed $650 million, 45-block entertainment district that will be anchored by the new home ice for the Detroit Red Wings. The entertainment district is expected to transform a blighted stretched of Cass Corridor into an upscale area teeming with people and shops.

Once you are in the Punch Bowl Social, the "sticky factor" tends to happen, Thompson said. "You think you are going to spend 30 minutes here for a drink, and then maybe you decide to grab a meal, and then maybe bowl. Three and a half hours later, you'll still here."

Punch Bowl Social can fit about 900 people at a time, and in the course of a business day, thousands of patrons could be served.

Thompson met Gilbert's people 13 months ago.

"That guy, his people, really know how to make things happen; I mean, here we are," Thompson said, as he stood amid the Detroit space.

As he stood near the foundation of the main bar, he pointed to a fireplace near the six bowling lanes. "Right above the fireplace is where the chrome deer head will be mounted," he said.

Thompson says the decor is best described as "dirty modern." He explained: "It's a combination of Victorian, industrial, modern and mountain lodge."

Punch Bowl Social can fit around 900 people at any one time and in the course of one business day, thousands of patrons could be served.

Construction continues around the bar at the Punch Bowl Social a 24,000-square-foot space with bar, food and bowling lanes.

Though it hasn't opened, many corporate parties, a few bar mitzvahs and other events have already been booked, Thompson said.

"It's no coincidence we're so close to the stadiums," Thompson said, referring to Comerica Park and Ford Field. Both are a couple blocks away.

Punch Bowl will hire about 150 workers. Two job fairs for the new establishment were held this week and another one takes place from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. this Saturday at 1528 Woodward, second floor, in downtown Detroit.

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