The job of air traffic controller is often listed as one of the most high-stress professions in America. But inside one particular air traffic control tower on the outskirts of Denver, the vibe has never been more relaxing.

That’s because the old Stapleton International Airport tower, which sat abandoned for a couple of decades after Denver’s first major airport outgrew its location, has been transformed into Punch Bowl Social Stapleton, a lively “eat-ertainment” concept restaurant that features yummy comfort foods and cocktails paired with classic games like bowling and foosball. 

The local restaurant chain took on the project of renovating the old tower after Denver City Councilman Chris Herndon approached Punch Bowl Social founder Robert Thompson with the idea. 

"We are intentional about seeking locations that have historic roots but need a new purpose,” says Thompson, and the challenge was accepted. Every good intention, however, was put to the test during the renovation, which took two-plus years of planning, design, restoration construction. The intensive effort even required removing, preserving and then reinstalling the original, massive tower panels on the exterior of the building. 

The results were worth the wait, however. Prior to Punch Bowl Social’s arrival, the old control tower and its environs had begun to look post-apocalyptic, but the structure now has a restored gleam and the area is abuzz with activity all day and night. 

 

It has become an after-dark hot spot for Denverites, as an all-ages playground of sorts, with six bowling lanes, board games, ping pong, arcade games, karaoke and dart boards. While the tower itself is not accessible to guests, the restaurant’s outdoor patio is one of the best in the city, a sprawling space with lounge chairs, a beer garden, bocce courts, corn hole and a giant Jenga. 

Inside, the décor was inspired by the golden age of aviation, so you’ll find a retro aesthetic and clever nods to the location’s past life: airplane shapes stamped into steel wall panels, vintage suitcases, bathroom stalls covered in airline brochures and a few aviation-themed menu items, like the “in-flight snack” (a spicy peanut mix).

The rest of the menu, created by James Beard Award-winning chef Hugh Acheson, holds major cred as well. Diner-inspired fare includes favorites like lobster rolls, chicken pot pie and the (appropriately branded) OMFG Southern Fried Chicken, while lighter choices range from a cook’s salad with pickled green beans and Gruyére to a Cuban black bean citrus soup. 

There’s an inventive menu of craft cocktails to wash it all down, too. At the top of that list? The Aviation. Naturally. 

Photos by Amber Boutwell.