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First Look: Punch Bowl Social

The award-winning super-eatertainment venue lands in San Diego


Dear Chuck E. Cheese. It’s time we saw other people. You had a good run. But it’s the 2010s now. I have a child, and am trying not to raise her in the 1980s. Specifically, it’s time I started seeing Punch Bowl Social.

Punch Bowl Social (PBS) is 23,500 square-feet of good times for the adult and their progeny. There are bowling alleys, two bocce courts, private karaoke rooms to schadenfreude the cracked voices of friends, eight bowling lanes, shuffle board, Bonzini (foosball), an arcade full of vintage bloops and bleeps, a 360-degree bar to watch the sports ball things, and board games galore.

It’s not a first of its kind in San Diego. Our city has been going strong toward the “eatertainment” trend for a while now, with Coin-Op, Park & Rec, Coin Haus, Brewski’s, Sidecar, you name it.

But the Denver-based PBS concept is by far the biggest, most ambitious playland. Sure, it’s a chain. But it’s a good one. I’m not against chains if they do it right. And to that end, they’re doing two things right—activating an under-developed part of downtown (Makers Quarter, specifically the corner of 15th and E), and bringing quality from-scratch cooking under chef Hugh Acheson. Acheson is a James Beard-winner and Top Chef alum (he competed on Top Chef Masters, and has been a judge on Top Chef multiple times since), plus the author of A New Turn in the South.

For PBS San Diego (the 17th or 18th location of PBS), he’ll include his diner classics for the 150-seat restaurant, including his OMFG Gluten-Free Southern Fried Chicken (buttermilk brine, hormone/antibiotic-free chicken, organic brown rice flour, tomato-jalapeño salad, and mint vinaigrette), and a “superfood” grain bowl with quinoa, fried farro, kale, pickled peppers, poached egg, and shiitakes.

He’ll also pay homage to San Diego’s beloved Baja culture, with a Pescadero (albacore tuna, kale slaw, pico de gallo, lime, pickled red onion), the Impossible Taco (the vegan Impossible taco meat is stewed in cumin, with cheddar cheese, tomato, sour cream), and deep-fried squash with braised sweet onion, avocado, quinoa, and salsa verde.

The bar will have all the modern accoutrements: old-school cocktails, new-school craft cocktails, craft beers, sharable punches, non-alcoholic drinks, sodas, fizzes, floats, shakes, and fresh-pressed juices.

As for the design, it’s a melange of funky ideas, starting with Victorian since that’s when the punch bowl was invented (1800s). Then you get some mountain lodge, industrial, midcentury, you name it. Check out the faux stag heads, the bicycle taxidermy, boxing-themed murals and seating repurposed from the old Coliseum.

PBS will open June 9 (at 9 p.m., after a ticketed opening event) at 1485 E Street. Enough of the talk. Please enjoy the first known photos of PBS San Diego.

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Restaurant reviews, food trends, top cocktails, wine, beer and generally the best eats and drinks in San Diego, by Food Editor and general good guy Troy Johnson.

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