There’s a new bar in town and it’s unlike anything else in the Twin Cities.
Punch Bowl Social, the eighth location of a national concept based out of Denver, will open to the public this Saturday (Nov. 12). We got a sneak peek at the sprawling eatery/ cocktail emporium/ play room in St. Louis Park’s West End on Wednesday as the staff was putting on the finishing touches.
Let’s cover the basics first. There are games, and lots of them – from eight bowling lanes to private karaoke rooms to skeeball, bocce ball, darts, 1980’s arcades, giant scrabble, dozens of TVs, ping pong and an eight-man foosball table imported from Italy – tucked into nearly every corner of the 24,000 square foot space. There is food; a Southern-leaning, casual-chic menu curated by Hugh Acheson, a nationally recognized chef with a James Beard award, a career built on fine dining and three seasons as a Top Chef judge on his resume. And there is, of course, punch – employing house-made syrups and shrubs, fresh fruit and herbs and spirits all over the spectrum – served in vintage glass bowls.
From there, it gets a little crazy.
Owner Robert Thompson’s signature “dirty modern” design is a mash up of elements from industrial, mid-century modern, Victorian and mountain lodge styles. Yep, all of those things rolled into one. Somehow, the blend feels like it belongs. Tall, blond leather booths mix and match with wooden tables and simple red chairs. Brick combines with wood paneling, exposed piping and massive, paned windows letting in plenty of natural light. There are Adirondack chairs, dark leather wingbacks, plaid banquettes, metal shipping containers (housing those private karaoke rooms), neon signs, a hand-painted, wall-sized woods scene mural (local artist Lili Payne) and a faux elk antler chandelier.
A stroll through the massive footprint feels like walking through about six different establishments. Every turn reveals more nooks and crannies – large, social areas (there are three bars) and small, intimate spaces.
“I’ve kind of joked that we combine Don Draper with Paul Bunyon,” said Thompson, referencing the popular Mad Men character and the lumberjack of lore. “I like to think this is a place they could get together and drink brown liquor.”
Speaking of drinking, while punch is clearly the namesake focus, there is plenty more on the cocktail list, from classic cocktails (Old Fashioneds and Boulevardiers) to adult milkshakes infused with brandies, whiskeys and coffee liqueurs to fresh squeezed fruit and vegetable juices, house-made sodas and a small section mocktails, similarly crafted and poured into glass coupes.
“We call them cocktails without alcohol,” national beverage director Patrick Williams (pictured in top photo) said. “They’re subtle and clean, but definitely elegant, definitely fancy and definitely more exciting than drinking cranberry and soda.”
Beers, meanwhile, range from micro brews to Hamm’s in a can.
On the menu, Acheson – who joined Punch Bowl Social about six months ago – serves up elevated bar cuisine rife with nods to his Canadien and Southern background. Small plates include pimento cheese with bacon marmalade and a classic poutine. There are also sandwiches – fried bologna, his take on a Big Mac – salads and dishes like meatloaf with mashed potatoes, confit Memphis-style ribs and Idaho trout with black-eyed pea succotash.
They’ll be serving breakfast daily, brunch – including a bloody mary bar that boasts house-made jerkies and picked veggies – on the weekends as well as lunch and dinner. There is also a dedicated gluten-free menu, complete with gluten-free breads, and vegetarian options.
“It’s important to have a sense of authenticity and nuance to places like this – that often lose that when they grow,” he said. “And I’m hell bent on proving that Southern food is not food that kills you or ails society. It should be a response to the agrarian society the south is.
“This menu is meant to show the breadth of that while also sticking to my own style.”