Huge 'eater-tainment' spot Punch Bowl Social coming to Deep EllumDecember 8, 2017
Denver-based restaurateur Robert Thompson is about to make a big investment in Deep Ellum.
Big as in 23,000 square feet, on a block with neighboring shops measuring a fraction of that. Big as in 200 workers and an estimated $5 million in development costs.
Next August or September, Thompson plans to open North Texas' first outlet of Punch Bowl Social, an outsized eater-tainment offering that combines a scratch kitchen, craft drinks, eight bowling lanes, two karaoke rooms, a bocce court, two virtual reality parlors and maybe a rooftop deck.
His project is part of a burst of development dollars aimed at a storied district that's had more peaks and valleys than a Six Flags roller coaster.
And while the area's increased popularity has meant increased costs for some entrepreneurs, district backers say this time, the combination of developer acumen, increased residential options and new retail should help maintain the upward impetus.
Betting on location
"We have been looking at Dallas for years, literally years," said Thompson of his site search. "And everyone kept trying to push us out to all these massive satellite municipalities, the Friscos of the world and all these other ... massive suburban developments.
"Those just don't feel authentic enough for Punch Bowl Social," he added. "We really like this in-town, gritty entertainment district aspect that's Deep Ellum. And we especially love the rebirth of Deep Ellum.
"Deep Ellum is this exciting entertainment district with its own history and really some cycles of history. It's had a heyday and in more recent history it's been down on its luck a little bit."
As more developers catch the latest wave, Thompson thinks Deep Ellum is "going to be one of the coolest in-town entertainment districts in the country.”
Thompson plans to park Punch Bowl Social No. 15 at a key gateway to the district, 2600 Main St. at North Good-Latimer Expressway.
Years ago, the garnet-brick building that stretches over to Commerce Street housed the Copper Tank Brewery, a combination dance club/brew pub that's been closed for about five years, according to Perren Gasc of Dallas-based DBA Commercial Real Estate.
Along with True North out of Denver, DBA Commercial represented Punch Bowl in the Deep Ellum lease.
Owned by North Carolina-based Asana Partners, which announced the acquisition of 28 Deep Ellum buildings in July, the future Punch Bowl Social building now sports an exterior with chipped black paint and a few boarded-up windows.
"What we do best ... is repurpose outdated or dilapidated structures," said Thompson, pointing to the recent conversion of an air traffic control tower at the old Stapleton Airport in Denver.
He called the Deep Ellum spot, "a great old structure" that "feels the most like the original Punch Bowl Social location in Denver, [more] than any other one either open or in development."
The original location opened in 2012. Ten are open now, including a venue in Austin. All are corporate-owned because "we would never offer an iota of control to anyone else that could negatively impact our brand."
That brand image meshes nicely, he thinks, with the repentant bad boy reputation that is coming to define today's Deep Ellum.
Born in the 1800s, the neighborhood just east of downtown Dallas has long been a haven for edgy night spots, music, and artisans in tattoos, cuisine and costume jewelry.
It enjoyed a spike of popularity in the 1990s, only to be shoved off the path to prosperity by crime, parking that was viewed as too expensive and the gravitational pull of suburbia.
Like every hopeful baseball fan at the start of spring training, neighborhood boosters say this time, it's different.
"We have added about 30 businesses in the past two years, mostly businesses going into vacant buildings not replacing old businesses," said Emily Vanderstraaten. She's the programming and marketing coordinator for the Deep Ellum Foundation, a nonprofit that has a management contract with the city to manage the public improvement district that includes Deep Ellum.
Most of the newcomers operate restaurants or bars.
"We definitely see that as a plus to be adding more people and [having] fewer vacant buildings," she said. "We're definitely excited about that."
Much of the future development will be residential and retail, she said, adding: "I think that that is what's needed to keep Deep Ellum from going into cycles as usual. So I think that a more present residential population and retail to [engage] the daytime population as well will really help round out Deep Ellum as a neighborhood as a whole."
Dallas apartment builder StreetLights Residential recently opened a high-rise in Deep Ellum — the 17-story Case Building at Main and Hall streets. It's an 8-minute walk from the Punch Bowl Social location.
StreetLights Residential also has plans for an apartment high-rise in the Epic mixed-use project on Elm Street near Good-Latimer that's expected to open in 2019 and will include a hotel.
Within the last 12 months, the neighborhood welcomed a handful of restaurant and bars in the 2800 Deep Ellum development. All are in the 2800 block of either Elm or Main streets near the corner of Malcolm X Boulevard.
"Responsible operators have a massive impact on how the neighborhood behaves and who comes to the neighborhood," said Thompson, offering a road map for success. "So while not an expensive [spot], we also don't do drinkin' with Lincoln where you get sauced for a penny. We just don't bring that kind of crowd."
Staying and going
Rebecca Bogart is founder of La Reunion Jewelry, cocooned in about 400 square feet next door to the new Punch Bowl Social location.
She said she plans to stay and looks "forward to ... being a part of this exciting time."
But not all businesses will be around to witness the latest rebirth first hand.
Russell David Hobbs has been on the Deep Ellum roller coaster longer than most. He sees himself as a pioneer.
"I went into Deep Ellum in 1984," recalled Hobbs. "It was a ghost town. I opened the first clubs there," including the Prophet Bar on Elm Street and The Door, located cater-corner from the future Punch Bowl Social site.
A cavernous space opened in 1998, The Door has room for 1,200 souls and has served as a proving ground for then-newish bands including Pete Wentz' Fall Out Boy and Tennessee-born Paramore.
One evening last week, several dozen fresh-faced rock fans chatted softly in the evening chill while waiting to walk through The Door to see Sleeping with Sirens.
Lines like that will vanish come New Year's Day.
Hobbs said his rent for The Door has doubled over the last two years. So he's leaving Prophet Bar open but is moving The Door after Dec. 31 to a new — so far undisclosed — location.
He doesn't want to dwell on the rent increase or seem bitter. But he sees a direct connect between the area's increasing allure and his rising rent.
"Deep Ellum's very popular right now," he said. "Everybody's going there because there's so many great places to go. It's caused everybody to raise the rent."
Hobbs offered up a history lesson.
He said the city "mismanaged" the area earlier. It's blooming now, he thinks, thanks to better public transportation and more city control over what kind of businesses come into Deep Ellum.
"There's just an explosion of a lot of new businesses there and the buzz that's making it all work," Hobbs said. "It's the synergy of a lot of new businesses opening ... and the city is managing Deep Ellum a lot better than they did ... before."
As he prepares to close the door on one Deep Ellum property, Hobbs remains bullish on the area's prospects.
"I've been telling people lately, I don't see any reason that Deep Ellum would be in decline unless the whole national economy is in decline," he said. "Deep Ellum is booming now and there's nothing going to stop it."