Downtown Portland isn’t known for its must-see destinations. Other than a few great restaurants, it’s not on anyone’s go-to list when visiting the city. You’re more likely to meet other tourists than quirky locals at many of the area watering holes. But that all changed this July with the opening of Punch Bowl Social at the Pioneer Place mall. Locals head here for shenanigans seven days a week.
A dining and entertainment concept imported from Denver, Punch Bowl is a behemoth of a space, incorporating nearly the entire third floor of one section of the mall. Mall employees and area workers now have a place to hang after work that isn’t a dive bar or an overpriced hotel chain.
The concept is simple: serve hearty fare and classic drinks amid everyone’s favorite American pastimes. You can choose to bowl in one of two sections, or try your hand at shuffleboard, ping pong, Ms. PacMan, marbles or foosball. Sprinkle in a little karaoke and you’ve got yourself a winning concept. The 24,000-square-foot Denver location became a huge hit as soon as it opened in early 2013, thanks to a strong word-of-mouth and an egalitarian flavor. The same attitude drives the Portland location, although a few kinks need to be ironed out: the staff is sometimes lost or discombobulated, drinks are hit or miss (the coconut capirinha was particularly off-putting) and some of the food items don’t work in Portland (I am looking at you Pacific Northwest Chowder).
But other things do work. The games are entertaining and harken back to your childhood. The two karaoke rooms are usually empty on a weeknight so it’s easy to sing to your heart’s content—the staff doesn’t frown upon solo singers like myself taking a turn at the mike. And the venue’s signature punches pack a flavor punch.
The venue’s tagline is: “Imagine Paul Bunyon meets Don Draper.” Well, that isn’t quite the feeling one gets when you walk in the door, but you’ll definitely leave with a smile on your face and some good libations in your belly.
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