Summer openings to look forward to
DENVER’S RESTAURANT SCENE SET TO HEAT UP
Published: Wednesday, April 25, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, April 25, 2012 01:04
For Denver residents who enjoy a good outing based on food and drink, this coming summer offers a handful of new venues for fellowship and fun. In anticipation, take a sneak peek at these three soon-to-be hot spots slated for even hotter summer openings.
Punch Bowl Social
Housed in a refurbished Big Lots at First Avenue and Broadway, Punch Bowl Social is a conglomerate of elevated diner, bar, and bowling alley. The entertainment emporium is also the 10th offering from restaurant developer Robert Thompson, the creative force behind Le Grand Bistro, Oyster Bar, and Argyll Gastro Pub.
Engineered for modern, urban gatherings, Punch Bowl Social is more than just a bar. “We’ve sort of operated under the belief that people get tired of just sitting on barstools and looking at one another, so it’s always fun to offer something for people to do,” Thompson said.
To keep patrons occupied, Punch Bowl Social will have three high-volume bars, eight bowling lanes, karaoke, pool, pingpong, and felt-lined marbles tables. “We think we’re going to be the first place, not just in town, but anywhere, that’s going to have a marbles scene,” he said.
This will be a forum for classic retro games, not an arcade with bells, whistles, and flashing lights. “I’m not really the kind of guy who’s ever going to go out and create a Dave and Buster’s type experience,” Thompson said. “Virtual reality games and that kind of scene are not what I think the grittier, urban denizen is interested in. There was an effort to create an environment that was more pure [with] games that were a bit more old school, and there’s really nothing more old school than bowling.”
In addition to the old school games, Punch Bowl Social will feature a coffee house component and a refined diner. The diner will serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but not the pedestrian greasy fare of classic diners. “We are a scratch kitchen. Everything is made from scratch,” said Thompson. “No frozen hash browns or frozen biscuits coming out of this kitchen.” Instead, diners will be treated to dishes like the organic house-made Spam, which is similar to paté, potato hash with brisket, and lobster omelettes.
The “dirty modern” design scheme—which Thompson describes as a collision of Victorian, industrial, and sleek contemporary ideas—utilizes recycled materials and massive windows will allow for the maximum use of natural light. The restaurant also prides itself on being bike-friendly with racks inside and out.
Punch Bowl Social is planning to open in June.
Relocating from the Lower Highlands to a larger space at 1500 Wynkoop St., the Squeaky Bean has already earned a loyal following of diners who appreciate their farm-to-table ingredient sourcing and sophisticated yet quirky preparations. “Our customers are people who appreciate what we do,” said restaurant manager Johnny Ballen. “They know we put a lot of care and love into what we do, and they come here for that.”
When plans to expand the original location fizzled due to lease issues, Ballen searched for a unique space in a distinctive neighborhood. The historic brick Saddlery Building in LoDo, which has been painstakingly renovated, fit the bill perfectly. The new space is three times the size and provides executive chef Max MacKissock with a fully equipped kitchen space—the original Squeaky Bean kitchen lacked fryers and a proper cooktop.
A chef’s counter will expose the action of the kitchen to the spacious dining area, which will feature two walls of windows and a rough timber ceiling. Ballen said he is designing the space to feel like a neighborhood bar with a sense of community and lots of personality.
The restaurant will serve dinner seven nights a week with brunch and lunch offered on weekends. The menu, which MacKissock is still planning, will feature lots of small dishes geared toward sharing. “Max…is very creative, very playful. His understanding of flavor profiles is incredible,” said Ballen. “Our customer base definitely likes to find something in Denver that has great flavor for the money and that’s what Max does.”
With gardens in the Highlands and a recently leased plot of farmland, the dishes will also revolve around seasonal and local components. “We’re going to be growing all our own produce, as much as we can, and flowers,” said Ballen. Some of the crops will be used in the restaurant, but Ballen would also like to set up a farm stand on the patio to sell additional produce and flowers to weekend brunch customers.
The Squeaky Bean is expected to debut in mid-June.
Start practicing your backhand, because in the next few months Ace will be serving up some table tennis along with a tasty meal. The venture is the latest offering from the team behind the comfort food hangout Steuben’s and the highly acclaimed Vesta Dipping Grill, a group that includes Josh and Jen Wolkon, Brandon and Emily Biederman, Matt Selby, and Jeff Bustos.
This is a team aiming to create unique dining experiences. “I like to think our restaurants offer more than just meals,” said owner Josh Wolkon. “People are just looking for anything different when they go out. They don’t want to do the same old thing.” And pingpong, as vintage as it may seem, definitely isn’t something you find at every neighborhood restaurant.
Located at 501 E. 17th Ave., Ace will be housed in the repurposed Storz Garage. “It’s always fun to take an old building and bring it back to life and bring energy to it,” said Wolkon. Although the brick walls, concrete floors, and steel trusses will remain in their raw, unfinished state, Ace will eventually have a new face and spirit.
The restaurant will implement many recycled and repurposed materials in its interior spaces: The bar tops will be made with old train car flooring and the wood of the old ceiling will be used to make dining booths.