Gallery: Punch Bowl Social Brings ‘Camp’ for Adults to Downtown Detroit

December 09, 2014, 4:31 PM by  Alan Stamm

A dozen drafts are on tap for $4 to $6.50. Ten wines are $6 to $8.50 a glass. (Photos by Alan Stamm)

Punch Bowl Social is like summer camp with booze and fancier grub.

In addition to marbles-shooting, ping pong, shuffleboard and an X-Men pinball game, there are miikshakes and punch. But if PBS’ version of those beverages remind you of camp, yours was cooler than mine because these shakes are blended with mint liqueur or maple whiskey.

The newcomer is on Broadway's side of The Z garage.

Then there’s the décor, which media guests saw Tuesday as contractors wrapped up. The public debut is Wednesday from 7 p.m. to 2 a.m., a benefit for the Salvation Army of Metro Detroit. Ten bucks gets you food samples and music by Kaleido, five Detroit rockers.

Detroit’s new restaurant-playground at the Z parking structure downtown has the faux-rustic ambiance of Rockies lodge meets U.P. deer camp.

The design includes an antlers chandelier and brass buck head above the Broadway-level bar. Upstairs are three stone fireplaces and brown wall paint in stripes intended to evoke a log cabin without logs. The only missing touch is a factory-distressed wood sign flashing “Good Eats.”  

It’s all as authentically Detroit as a sandbox and tiki bar would be at Campus Martius. Oh wait—poor example.

Ah, but we don’t choose a dining-drinking-recreation spot mainly for its looks, right?

Preview Invitees tasted signature punches and samples of buffalo meatloaf, seared tuna, shrimp couscous salad and other "gastro diner" fare. They’re imaginative, flavorful and recommended – particularly the brioche French toast with candied walnuts and salted caramel syrup.

The ambiance is Rockies lodge meets U.P. deer camp.

French toast and other breakfast items are served until 3 p.m. because millennials are a key target. CEO Robert Thompson and Marketing Director Leah Hanson, who jetted in from Denver for two weeks of staff training and promotions, each used the M-word in separate conversations Tuesday. 

In addition to its two-year-old Colorado base, PBS also is in Austin and Portland, so Number 4 puts Detroit in cool company.  

"Detroit has been in our plans for a while because of its cultural relevance to our concept," Thompson says. "It's nationally recognized as a food-forward city and a growing hub for millennials. Our brand is authentic too, and we felt it would translate well here."

His team likes the city so much, it put Detroit a year ahead of Chicago on the expansion schedule.

The 24,000-square-feet newcomer is Metro Detroit’s only restaurant with eight bowling lanes, ping pong tables and coin-operated arcade games on both levels, including a skee-ball model labeled Beer Ball. Its capacity is 970 people.

Robert Thomson, the restaurant group's CEO, says Detroit is "nationally recognized as a food-forward city and a growing hub for millennials."

"Millennials want an all-inclusive place," says Hanson, the marketing chief -- who uses that phrase to mean in one place, not recreational activities included.  All games are pay to play. Bowling, for instance, is $5 an hour per person before dark and $7 at night. 

This "eater-tainment" mix is so distinctive that Hanson appeared unfamiliar with this week's second large debut aimed at young diners and craft beer fans -- HopCat. "Oh, where's that?" she replied when this writer mentioned the Midtown spot opening Saturday.

The upper-level cabin theme is something new for PBS, which doesn’t have ersatz log walls at its Colorado, Oregon and Texas sites – and won’t at the late 2015 Chicago location. The self-contained second floor -- with a bar, two bowling alleys and all other diversions -- is booked for holiday office parties.  

The most impressive detail for this writer isn't the custom burger choices (three types of patties, three rubs, four cheeses, five add-ons) or the five alcoholic "breakfast drinks" that include a tart Corpse Reviver. Punch Bowl Social wins me with a 28-beers list that has a section labeled Old Man Cans, where selections include Genessee Cream Ale -- a sentimental favorite since my Syracuse University days.

Not bad for a crew from out west.  

A wrap-around main bar is the dining room centerpiece.

Six alleys are on the first level and two are upstairs. Rental shoes are available.

Patrick Williams, group beverage director, concocted punch recipes that include a daily special.

Food blogger Joe (The Hungry Dude") Hakim and server Paige Johnson.

Guests can feel like a kid again, doin' what we did again, for hours and hours.

Designers get points for trying to look Up North, but a demerit for painted "logs." (Memo to Punch Bowl: We use real trees.)

Buffalo Jalapeño Meatloaf ($17) is served with garlic confit, haricot vert, soffrito and mac & cheese.

Monkey Bread French Toast ($12) is quintessential comfort food made with brioche, candied walnuts,salted caramel syrup. It's comes with bacon and an any-style egg, served until 3 p.m.

Punch Bowl has colorful balls.


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