Unsnap those selfie sticks, Milwaukee. The Punch Bowl Social franchise – which put down roots in Denver in 2012 and has since spread to 15 other cities – has arrived.
The “eatertainment” destination is located at 1122 N. Vel R. Phillips Ave., within a stone’s throw from Fiserv Forum. Founder and CEO Robert Thompson expects to see the place packed before and after games and shows taking place at the arena. But he’s confident that it will draw crowds even when the rest of the Entertainment Block is relatively quiet.
PBS encapsulates the spirit of experiential dining that seems to have enthralled so many millenials (and restaurateurs trying to lure the coveted twenty-and-thirty-something demographic into their establishments). Inside each of its vast, warehouse-sized spaces, patrons can find scratch-made food and craft cocktails served in a sleek setting full of floor-to-ceiling windows, exposed beams and reclaimed wood tabletops.
Much of the menu is devoted to “sharables,” large dishes meant to be eaten over drinks and conversation with friends. The restaurant’s version of a charcuterie plate, A Pig, A Duck and Some Cheese Walk into a Bar ($22) is one of the more impressive plates. It comes with three meats – prosciutto, confit duck leg and potted pork – blue cheese and marinated feta lovingly arranged on a long-handled wood board. It’s served with house-made dill pickles, olives, strawberry jam and a “Hasselback” baguette just begging to be ripped apart.
And many of the dishes, created by Chief Culinary and Beverage Officer Sheamus Feeley, were designed with nostalgia in mind. The Wolf ($12.50), a griddled bologna sandwich served on Texas toast with shredded lettuce, American cheese, mustard and sea salt kettle chips could be considered a grown-up (and more flavorful) version of the schoolroom sandwich that so many of us grew up eating. And the Chicken ‘n Waffles ($16), one of the venue’s most popular dishes, looks and tastes like a contemporary version of the classic soul food dish, complete with a malted waffle and chipotle-citrus maple syrup.
Similarly, the extensive drinks menu tips its hat to popular mid-century cocktails. Visitors can order an old fashioned ($10) served with Old Forester Bourbon (though the mixologist acknowledged that he was prepared to make the drink Wisco-style, with brandy), a boulevardier ($12) with Old Overholt Rye Whiskey or an old-school strawberry daiquiri ($8) that bears more resemblance to Ernest Hemingway’s drink of choice than the slushy-like version that more typically appears on menus these days.
There’s also – of course – punch, which can be purchased by the glass ($9-10) or in bowls meant to serve between four and eight people ($36-40 and $72-80, respectively).
But photogenic food and drinks are far from the only thing that PBS focuses on. The franchise’s 24,500-square-foot Milwaukee outpost has been deftly decorated to look like an impossibly hip lakeside cabin. And, like a beach-y vacation home, it’s chock-full of entertainment options. Guests are encouraged to wander throughout the two-story space, taking advantage of free access to arcade and board games, darts and cornhole. Or, they can pay to reserve ping pong or billiards tables, a bowling lane or a private karaoke room.
Nods to Wisconsin’s culture and heritage appear in most of these rooms. One of the venue’s many private karaoke rooms was decorated with West Allis native Liberace in mind and features gilded furniture, rose-colored wallpaper and tufted club chairs. Another pays homage to “Space Cowboy” and Milwaukeean Steve Miller.
The end result is a space that looks and feels like a twenty-first century social club. It can get loud and raucous, and it may soon be swamped with social media influencers snapping photos of themselves in front of its custom wallpaper. But it’s also an affordable, and beautifully designed, addition to the Fiserv Forum Entertainment Block. And it should provide hours of entertainment for Milwaukeeans looking for a place where they can linger over their food and drinks, or a venue where they can enjoy scratch-made food and craft cocktails in between bowling sets and rounds of arcade games.
When it’s fully up and running on April 1, the venue will be open Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m., Saturday from 9 a.m. to 2 a.m. and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 12 a.m. Until then, it’s open Monday through Friday from 4 p.m.-2 a.m., Saturday from 9 a.m. to 2 a.m. and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 12 a.m.
In the meantime, Milwaukeeans can also purchase tickets to its grand opening party, which runs from 6-8 p.m. on Saturday, Mar. 9, and features live music by The Hussy. Proceeds go to the local nonprofit Running Rebels.