Punch Bowl Social comes to San Diego's artsy, gritty Makers Quarter

A Colorado-based “eatertainment” chain is embracing a historic building in one of downtown San Diego's grittier sections and becoming a stakeholder in the city's budding Makers Quarter.

  • In March, Punch Bowl Social plans to open a 24,000-square-foot restaurant, bar, bowling alley, karaoke hall and game arcade at 15th and E streets.
  • The current historic building was constructed in 1938 as the Coliseum Athletic Club.
  • Punch Bowl Social touts its celebrity chef-created food menus.
  • Expansion spurt: San Diego is one of eight locations under construction nationally.
  • The restaurant is in Makers Quarter, a downtown district that bills itself as a “community of entrepreneurs, artists and makers.”
  • There’s a 3:30 p.m. public hearing Thursday for a conditional-use permit that would allow amplified live music until 10 p.m. during the week.

Punch Bowl Social: Here’s the full story

Robert Thompson thinks his restaurants can compete in San Diego’s growing crop of upscale bowling alleys and arcade-game hipster bars — what’s been called the “eatertainment” category.

His Punch Bowl Social will open its first San Diego location as early as March, the young company’s 12th outlet.

It’s a large-scale bar and restaurant with bowling, karaoke booths, live music, arcade games and a virtual-reality parlor, all in a historic former boxing arena on downtown San Diego’s eastern edge.

Thompson launched his concept in 2012 in Denver. He wanted a place where people can gather in person — as opposed to on the Internet.

“I felt a place to eat, drink and be social was key,” Thompson, 46, said in an interview this week.

He was interested in the Victorian-era look, so he leaned on an old Victorian concept for his company name.

“Punch bowls and punches were invented in the 1800s. There was an event one could go to, and it was called a ‘punch bowl social,’” Thompson said.

Downtown San Diego has plenty of craft beer and cocktail joints with high-end design. It also has a hipster bowling alley and at least one bar devoted to arcade games.

Thompson said the from-scratch food sets his establishments apart, making them what he calls best-of-class and able to attract financing for expansion.

The company got a big infusion of cash in June from L Catterton, the largest consumer-focused private equity firm in the world.

The menu is Southern-inspired and created by Hugh Acheson, celebrity chef and author of the cookbook “A New Turn in the South.”

In Denver, dishes include pot roast, Kobe beef franks, lobster bacon fries and something called OMFG Southern Fried Chicken.

“We see other folks who have these combinations of food, beverage and entertainment. But the way that you put those parts together — what’s important to you becomes apparent,” Thompson said.

“And the food and the beverage for us is what’s apparent.”

Thompson said his company likes “gritty, off-the-grid” locations — and that’s what he’s getting at the corner of 15th and E streets in downtown’s East Village.

The area is characterized by aging warehouses, many of which are owned by the Navarra family as a legacy of Jerome’s Furniture’s showroom heyday downtown.

An overhaul of the neighborhood is being led by Lankford & Associates, Hensel Phelps and HP Investors. They are building Makers Quarter, which they see as a “community of entrepreneurs, artists and makers.”

Anheuser-Busch’s 10 Barrel Brewing Co. was an early anchor. A 265-unit Broadstone apartment complex targeting millennials is under construction. So is Block D, a six-story “collaborative office hub.”

Makers Quarter spokeswoman Stacey Pennington said they “couldn’t be more excited” about the entry of Punch Bowl Social.

“They embraced the vision even several years ago,” Pennington said. “It will be such as amazing hub for families and corporate gatherings.”

Punch Bowl Social is moving into the former Coliseum Athletic Club, rebuilt in 1938 after the original 1924 structure was lost to fire.

It was home to popular boxing and wrestling matches, including many by famous slugger Archie Moore in the 1930s.

The city has deemed the building potentially historic, and the property owner — Jerome Navarra of Jerome’s Furniture — has expressed interest in getting an official designation, according to the downtown San Diego development agency.

The building’s signature feature is what Thompson called a “big, old, barrel-roof ceiling.”

Punch Bowl intends to preserve and highlight the “gorgeous, defining” roof, he said.

The company also intends to keep the exterior and interior walls largely as they are, with some clean up.

“We have some winks and nods to the boxing history of the complex,” Thompson promised.

Civic San Diego will hold a public hearing at 3:30 p.m. Thursday over a proposed conditional-use permit that would allow Punch Bowl Social to have amplified live music until 10 p.m. from Sunday to Thursday and until 1:30 a.m. on weekends.

Downtown groups have been supportive of the permit application.

jen.steele@sduniontribune.com

Twitter: @jensteeley

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