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Anna Schumacher for Punch Bowl Social
Illustration for article titled How Grown-Up Hangouts Started Sucking Less: A Historical Perspective

Ever find yourself hitting happy hour wondering what the ancient Greeks did at 5:15? Crazy coincidence: so have we. That’s why we got together with our buddies at Punch Bowl Social, a “kitchen sink-style” hangout emporium popping up in cities across America, to find out. Below, some highlights from humanity’s quest to chill harder, better, and smarter, compiled in time to put a smile on your happy hour face.


In Olden Tymes

The Greek Symposium

The Greek Symposium was essentially a bunch of dudes of the aristocratic persuasion getting together to eat, drink, and philosophize. Plato’s Symposium immortalizes the most famous of these, in which Hellenic It-Boy Alcibiades drops by three sheets to the wind after a night of heavy symposium-hopping.


The Roman Convivium

Much like the Green symposium, but with one crucial addition: ladies were invited.


The Medieval Tavern

The social scene in the Middle Ages was no joke. Part bar/restaurant, part motel, and part social club, medieval taverns served up hearty food and bawdy entertainment along with local wine or ale. (Back then, every brewery was a microbrewery.) Some taverns even had archery and bowling setups in their alleys — which is why we still refer to bowling venues as “alleys” to this day. An early prototype of the “kitchen sink-style” hangout emporium that’s just starting to re-emerge in venues like Punch Bowl Social today, the medieval tavern brought everyone from nobility to minstrels together for good times and the occasional bawdy sing-along.


Still Kind of a Long Time Ago

The Gentlemen’s Club

While we were just discussing bowling alleys, you need to get your mind out of the gutter: “gentlemen’s club” meant something way different in the Victorian era than it does today. Back in fancy England, a gentlemen’s club was a members-only spot where a (male) aristocrat could enjoy a meal, a book or newspaper, a parlor game, a conversation, a brandy, or even a nap without the presence of pesky women or children. Once wildly elite, gentlemen’s clubs grew in number and popularity throughout the 1800s. Eventually, just about any sucker with a purse half-full of coin had a clubhouse to call home-away-from-home.


The Not-Just-for-Gentlemen Club

By the 1880s, women were all, “What the heck, guys? Don’t we get a club, too?” Clubs such as the Ladies’ Institute and the University Women’s Club began to pop up, and quickly swelled in popularity. Some were even (gasp!) coed.


Today, the concept of the schmancy members-only club lives on in establishments such as the Royal Automobile Club and Annabel’s, both in London, which cater to those who are either too rich or too important to eat dinner in a restaurant like a normal person.

The Grange

In post-Civil War America, president Andrew Johnson commissioned the formation of The National Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry (aka “the Grange”) to unite isolated rural farmers in the North and South. Grange halls began to pop up in small towns across the nation, and soon became social hubs for dining, dancing, and not-drinking (the Grange was — and still is — a dry organization).


Borrowing elements like secret handshakes and cloaked-in-secrecy rituals from the Freemasons, the Grange was unusual in that women were not only welcome, but required to hold positions of authority. Teens were included too, as long as they were “old enough to draw a plow.” Good times!

The Speakeasy

You didn’t have to bleed blue to be welcomed into a speakeasy, but you did need to know the password. Due to 1920s Prohibition laws — which banned alcohol from all establishments in the U.S. — spirit-slinging operations were forced to go underground. Bars were hidden behind secret entrances and sliding panels, drinks were served in teacups, and everyone was on the lookout for Johnny Law. Because drinking was illegal, it was about 1000% more fun: a statistic that makes a lot more sense once you’ve had a heaping teacup of bathtub gin.


Semi-Recent History

The Arcade

Many of us think of arcades as those blinking, beeping, gloriously parent-free escapes from our childhoods, but they actually date back to the “penny arcades” of the early 20the century. There, prototypes of the pinball machine caused much hand-wringing amongst America’s anti-gambling set, and even set off a “pinball prohibition” that stayed in effect in New York City for three decades.


Just as pinball became legal again, Pong came along in 1972 to elbow it out of the spotlight. This ushered in the so-called “golden age” of electronic arcade games, which most likely kept you hanging around a Ms. Pac-Man machine trying to beat the high score for most of the 80s. Today, the arcade is seeing a resurgence in popularity at both vintage-styled bar/restaurants such as Punch Bowl Social, as well as the more commercial quarter-gobbling establishments you’re likely to find in your local mall.

The Disco

Sometime in the early 1970s the grown-up hangout stood up, put on some glitter, and hit the dance floor. Tired of polite chit-chat around pleasant company, movers and shakers flocked to cavernous spaces — such as the Paradise Garage in New York and the (still standing) EndUp in San Francisco — to drink and dance the night away. The disco became a place where people from all walks of life could come together without judgment: all you needed to feel accepted was a pair of platform heels and an unshakeable devotion to The Boogie.


The Karaoke Bar

“Karaoke,” from the Japanese words kara (“empty”) and okesutora (“orchestra”), was invented by Japanese musician Daisuke Inoue in the 1970s. A piano player in a snack bar, Inoue was repeatedly asked to make recordings his customers could sing along to. Sensing an opportunity, he created the Juke 8, which allowed would-be songsters to insert money, select a track, and sing into the attached microphone. The Juke 8 initially suffered in popularity due to the thin wooden walls of Japan’s houses, which resulted in natural sound bleed and irate neighbors. But in 1984 an enterprising entrepreneur created the first “karaoke box” from a converted freight car in a rice field. The rest is (off-key) history.


The Gastropub

Sometime in the mid-aughts, someone in Brooklyn (or was it Portland?) grew a mustache, decorated a storefront with Edison bulbs and subway tiles, and started serving grass-fed burgers and house-cured pickles alongside artisanal cocktails made from things like elderberry flowers and dandelion root. The “gastropub” — like a bar but with adventurous, high-end food and beverages instead of the same sad wings and fries — was born, and the vintage-bike-and-beard set was never the same again.


The Future of Fun

The “Kitchen-Sink” Emporium of Good, Clean, Grown-Up Fun

As the digital revolution exposed newly minted adults to more (and more highly personalized) types of hanging out than ever before, they began to demand experiences that scratched every possible type of social itch: from craft beers to karaoke, and from burgers to bowling. As a response, a new type of “kitchen-sink” venue began to emerge, featuring a Greatest Hits Of Hangout History approach — think gastropubs on the first floor, arcade games and private karaoke rooms on the second, and bowling, shuffleboard, and ping-pong (plus beer – always beer) on the third.


Leading the way is Punch Bowl Social, which has locations in cities including Portland, Denver, Austin, Cleveland, and Detroit. It’s considered by some to be the natural culmination of thousands of years of human innovation when it comes to hanging out like an adult. With its combination of comfort food, fun boozy drinks like “adult milkshakes” and multi-straw punch bowls, and thousands of square feet of just-for-grown-ups fun, it’s a nod to the finest forms of chillaxing that history has to offer…and a vision of a future where getting together with friends is not just recreation, but an art.

Anna Schumacher has written for Cosmopolitan, Refinery29, Esquire, and more. Her debut novel, END TIMES, is out now from Penguin/Razorbill books. Follow her at @SchumacherYA.


This post is a sponsored collaboration between Punch Bowl Social and Studio@Gawker.

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