Denver-based Robert Thompson took a winding road to success with his growing restaurant empire
Don't be fooled by the case of pies in the front window. As you enter the diner in downtown Denver
at 8 p.m. on a Friday, the gold booths, open kitchen, and chicken 'n' waffles are only a teaser for the adult playground ahead. The thump of Ol' Dirty Bastard lures you through to Punch Bowl Social's cavernous main hall, 23,000 square feet of fun. At its center is a circular bar lit by a massive antler chandelier, where bushy-bearded, tattooed bartenders serve local brews,
craft cocktails, and elder-flower-spiked punch to a crowd of hipster parents and their heirs apparent. Drink in hand, it's time to choose your own adventure. A couple of rounds of bowling, perhaps, in one of eight dimly lit lanes adorned with vintage fox-hunting prints? A private karaoke room? A game of bocce? You wander upstairs, where there's another bar, dozens of 1980s arcade games, Ping-Pong and pool tables, and low banquettes that, as the night wears on, become the backdrop for more sloppy public making out than you've encountered anywhere else in post-collegiate life.
While this scene might not be everyone's idea of a good time, anyone trying to sell to the elusive, highly sought-after 20- and 30-somethings marketers love to refer to as Millennials
will want to take notes. Every detail a guest sees, hears, tastes, and experiences at Punch Bowl is part of a well-honed formula for fun engineered by weathered restaurant vet Robert Thompson.
Thompson, who sports a shaved head and an expression that reliably hovers between a squint and a scowl, is hardly a poster boy for the type of carefree good times he's spent his career designing for others. "I can't have fun when I'm here," concedes Thompson, who would rather stay home with his wife and two young sons on Friday night than soak up the endorphins at one of his eight Punch Bowl locations scattered in cities throughout the country. "All I see are the cigarette butts in the parking lot," he nitpicks. "I notice when booths aren't perfectly aligned with light fixtures, if the music levels aren't right for the time of day, whether the hostess ran over to open the door, if the servers are smiling."
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