Punch Bowl Social opened at The Battery Atlanta adjacent to SunTrust Park in late March . The two-story, 25,000-square-foot restaurant, bar and entertainment venue is notable for a couple of reasons.
It’s the first Southeast outpost of the Denver-based lifestyle concept that features a made-from-scratch menu and craft beverages, along with fun stuff such as bowling, shuffleboard, pingpong, classic video games, and virtual reality experiences.
And Georgia-based, James Beard Award-winning chef Hugh Acheson is the company’s culinary director, adding a local connection to a growing concept with a dozen locations across the country and at least a half-dozen more in the works.
Taking up what feels like an entire block at The Battery, the two-story layout includes multiple bar and dining areas with theme park-like variations in design elements, plus inviting patios. And each area incorporates opportunities to play or just relax with a drink and a snack.
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Like the sprawling space, Acheson’s offerings are wide-ranging, in the style of diner fare. There are separate breakfast, lunch, dinner and weekend brunch menus, with items ranging from bacon and eggs and Hugh’s Pimiento Cheese, to a double-stack burger and Southern fried chicken. Meant to be shared, “Big Baller Platters” will feed four for $50-$70.
Speaking of sharing, signature punch bowls are a main feature of the beverage program, along with cocktails, local craft beers and a host of nonalcoholic sodas, fizzes, floats, shakes, and fresh-pressed juices.
Last week, I spoke with Punch Bowl Social founder and CEO Robert Thompson about his background and the concept.
“I’ve been doing this for over 20 years now,” Thompson said. “I’ve been doing smaller boutique restaurants and I’ve done big-box bars and entertainment concepts. But no one had really put together an ‘eat-ertainment’ concept that was doing high-volume bar but took a very serious approach to the culinary process and craft beverage experience.
“In 2010, I started putting this thing together, and in 2012 I opened up the first location in Denver. We’re really fortunate, and there’s no one else like us out there that is focused on those key elements, and then a very intense focus on the design process.”
Perhaps surprisingly, while people may be attracted to Punch Bowl for the fun and games, that’s not what Thompson and his team consider their mission.
“What we do is food and beverage,” he said. “The gaming is just sort of there as a critical element in the concept. It’s one of the draws. But at the end of the day, about 89 percent of our sales derive from the food and beverage side.
“The games are social in nature, including the newly added virtual reality parlors with VR headsets that we put into the Atlanta location. It’s even a lot of fun to watch other people play, because everything they see inside the headset is displayed on a monitor. We also have private karaoke rooms that are very social.”
Asked about the allure of the Atlanta market, Thompson said he saw it as a natural move.
“I’m originally from Mississippi, so I’m a Southern boy at heart,” he said. “I’ve been trying to put my concept down in the Southeast for a while, and Atlanta was obviously high on that list, but I was never able to get a deal together. We’re still looking at things in Midtown, and there are a lot of other opportunities.
“In this case, the Braves came to us and put a very compelling story in front of us. The Battery is very exciting. And as a son of the South, I grew up watching the Braves on TBS, like everybody else did. So I was a Braves fan. Let’s just say, my dad passed away a few years ago, but he would have been pretty excited that I was working with the Atlanta Braves.”
Besides the thrill of the Braves, Thompson said he was equally excited to get Acheson on board with the business. And in a later conversation, Acheson said the feeling was mutual.
“As the culinary director, I work with them on menus, and guidance, and understanding what’s possible in a from-scratch kitchen,” Acheson said. “It’s kind of interesting to watch something grow as quickly as Punch Bowl is growing and still apply good mantras to it.
“But from the get-go, Robert Thompson has wanted to get the culinary side on the right footing, and believe in it, and put pride in it, and I think he’s succeeded. The menu originally had a Southern diner style to it. Now it’s more just American diner. It’s fun to pivot a menu like that that has to appeal to so many diverse people for so many diverse reasons.”
875 Battery Ave., Suite 720, Atlanta. 470-443-1443, punchbowlsocial.com/location/atlanta.
More images from a First Look at Punch Bowl Social