Among rows of modern homes, the 1960s tower sticks out like an appendage to the neighborhood. The Stapleton airport tower complex at Martin Luther King and Central Park boulevards is an icon of the former Denver airport that was converted into a residential area. After remaining vacant for 20 years, the tower finally has a new future: it will be converted into the dining and entertainment center, Punch Bowl Social.
“At this time, this is really the only viable proposal that has come forward. Overall I think the consensus is most people are pretty excited about it and I think it will integrate well into the community,” says Jim Chrisman, vice president of Forest City Stapleton.
Over the years it’s been a challenge to find a functional and unique use for the building. When Councilman Chris Herndon, who represents Stapleton, was elected in 2011, he vowed to find a worthy reuse. A few restaurants have expressed interest in the ground floor, but without a use for the upper floors it wasn’t realistic. And a few years ago, the Stapleton Master Community Association proposed a community arts center, but the proposal did not end up going forward.
This past year it dawned on Herndon that Punch Bowl might be the right fit. “We always talked about what the community needed and they wanted something authentic. I’ve always thought a unique event space would do well here, so Punch Bowl naturally came to mind,” he says.
Punch Bowl Social has an “eatertainment” concept that combines craft cocktails, diner-inspired food and entertainment, including old-school arcade games, pool tables, bowling alleys and more. They’re known for hosting lots of private parties and events. Herndon expects parents will enjoy taking the kids during the day, but then also having a place to go out at night with other adults.
Punch Bowl Social will acquire 1.8–2 acres of land with the 15,000-square-foot building and the tower. Renovation is expected to cost about $5–$6 million. The building will be mid-century architecture with elements of art deco, according to Becky Stone of OZ Architecture who is designing the interior and exterior.
The first and second levels will be restaurant and gaming. The third level will house Punch Bowl Social corporate offices.
Punch Bowl is proposing a 3,400-square-foot addition to the first level that will include an outdoor patio. Their ideas for this outdoor space include bocce courts, hopscotch, a 18-inch wading pool for adults, and Hula-Hoops everywhere. Nice dogs will be welcome.
Plans for the second floor include a 2,200-square-foot addition with a patio facing away from the nearby homes, so the neighbors won’t have Punch Bowl guests looking at them. The second-floor patio will have garage-like doors that can open and close depending on weather and noise.
In the original design proposal, the tower had a “Punch Bowl Social” sign at the top, but Denver has a height restriction on signage that would not allow this.
Through all the renovations, Chrisman says Stapleton’s design review committee wants to be sure the tower doesn’t look leftover or like some neglected piece of a renovated building. “The different components must all work together,” he says.
There will be a covenant against the property that Punch Bowl Social and future owners will maintain the tower and cannot demolish it, according to Chrisman.
“We want to celebrate the tower and the neighborhood,” says Robert Thompson, CEO and founder of Punch Bowl Social. “Our concept is flexible enough that it can adapt to different neighborhoods.”
Having his office on the third floor, Thompson will be a new neighbor in Stapleton. Thompson, a Montclair resident with a 23-month-old and another on the way, eats at home most of the time, but when he does go out he is guilty of eating at his own restaurants—Punch Bowl Social, and Argyll Whiskey Beer that recently opened at 17th and Downing.
At Punch Bowl he often eats a quesadilla with strawberries, melted leeks, queso Oaxaca, and queso cotija. Breakfast is his favorite meal, so it’s served until 3pm every day at Punch Bowl. They serve items like Monkey Bread French Toast—sticky, gooey brioche bread, salted caramel, and candied walnuts. Thompson also loves the pancakes slathered in syrup at Snooze. “It brings me to action,” he says.
Thompson started doing versions of the “eatertainment” concept in the ’90s and perfected his “crown jewel,” Punch Bowl Social, in 2010. There are locations in Portland, Austin and Detroit, each being unique. The first location in Denver opened on South Broadway in 2012, which is a “grittier, younger entertainment district than Stapleton,” Thompson says. The South Broadway location is 21 and older after 9pm, and open until 2am. He is open to doing things differently at the Stapleton location and wants it to fit the neighborhood.
He and his team have met with Stapleton community groups to solicit ideas and concerns.
Keri Terwilliger lives across from the tower on Uinta. Half of her friends feel bad for her and half are jealous. “I’m very excited to have something done with the tower, but I’m concerned that people will park in front of my driveway,” she says.
The city has the final authority to determine where the entrance(s) to Punch Bowl will be located and Forest City confirmed that 32nd Ave. will be built from Uinta to Central Park Blvd. Currently, 105 parking spaces have been allotted. According to Jim Chrisman, the adjacent commercial tenants will likely have a shared parking agreement with Punch Bowl Social so they can use each other’s spaces and prevent on-street parking. If parking does overflow into the neighborhood, Punch Bowl has agreed to make “Resident Parking Only” signs, which they did at the South Broadway location.
The 2.4–2.6 acres of land adjacent to the tower could be used to expand parking, if needed. Christopher Gleissner, development and planning supervisor for the City and County of Denver, says the tower lot and the adjacent land to the east and north are zoned CMU-20 or commercial mixed use up to 20 stories, which could be office, retail, restaurant and residential (houses, apartments or townhomes). “We don’t anticipate anything out of scale or out of character for the neighborhood. It will complement the Punch Bowl,” he says.
Jim Chrisman acknowledged that Forest City’s concept for the land north of 32nd is mid- to high-rise apartments, but said that phase of development is two or more years out.
Punch Bowl Social is expected to open in late 2016. “We’re going to be here for years and years, and the community isn’t going anywhere. I think Punch Bowl has a lot of long-term staying power,”
Thompson says he has been overwhelmed by support from residents so far. Punch Bowl will present and solicit feedback at the Stapleton United Neighbors Annual Community Forum from 6:30–9pm on Tuesday, May 19 at the Central Park Recreation Center, 9561 MLK Blvd.