I have a few posts in the docket, but wanted to write about my night tonight while it was still fresh in my mind, and to give credit where credit is due.
My city is booming. I kind of take it for granted, until I realize that it’s not usual for a city our size to have four new restaurants open in the last two weeks. Everywhere you look, something is being built or a new business is opening.
Several months ago, a new place called Pinewood Social opened. My friend Manda and I have been wanting to check it out, especially since the brothers behind the local speakeasy, The Patterson House (home to the best artisan cocktails in town) and one of the co-founding chefs of The Catbird Seat (rated by Esquire as one of America’s best new restaurants) were behind this venture as well. What is it? A bowling alley, coffeeshop, bar… I’ll let them describe it:
“Pinewood Social is based on the idea of creating a social gathering place that provides customers a variety of high-quality options to enhance their experience. Taken from the ideology from Ray Oldenburg’s book, “The Great Good Place,” Pinewood Social will be a welcoming new hangout, providing an alternative spot to the local coffee shop or neighborhood restaurant where people generally congregate. The relaxed atmosphere will provide a haven for a cup of coffee and a place to work early in the day, which could then lead to a refreshing poolside lunch, which may then turn into a lively gathering of friends for cocktails and dinner after work.”
With that in mind, we decided to get a big group together to check it out. An email went out to a bunch of our friends, and we thought we could get a group to hang out, bowl, order drinks, grab dinner, etc. You know – be social.
I had trouble getting a hold of them to reserve a bowling alley (since it’s so new, I knew I should reserve a lane, even if only a few of us were going to bowl), but I finally reached them and reserved a lane for six. The woman on the phone was very nice and we even had a little conversation about how busy they might or might not be on a weeknight. I got a confirmation email and I thought we were all set.
…Until Manda and I arrived at ten ’til 6 and told the hostess we were there to bowl. We got a confused look, then she asked my name (twice). She was very kind, but explained that the bowling alley had been booked out to a private party. She found my name under the dinner reservations.
Thanks to smartphones, I quickly pulled up the email confirmation, which very clearly said “bowling reservation.”
Kudos to her — she looked a little stressed, but had one of the waitresses show us to a big booth that could comfortably seat our party of six or eight or however many were going to show up (I was inwardly wishing I had been more particular about people telling me if they were coming or not) and she told us the manager would be by to talk to us.
Pinewood Social is in an old warehouse, so the layout is very open — the coffeeshop with its couches and long tables flows very naturally into the restaurant, which is a number of booths and tables that wrap around the outsides of the open space. In the center is a very large bar, with several tables close by. The bowling alley is at the far end of the room, closed off enough so that the sound doesn’t carry into the rest of the room but still open enough to feel like it’s one space. I was impressed by the look and feel.
But I was not very happy about the bowling mix up.
We hadn’t been seated long before the general manager, Matt Buttel, appeared at our table. He could not have been more apologetic. I had to resist the urge to say, “Oh, it’s okay…” (because I tend to want to avoid conflict) because really, it wasn’t okay — and props to him, he wasn’t acting like it was. He told us that normally he would try to fit us into a lane, but since it was a private party that had booked every lane, there was nothing he could do — except make sure we had a great night. He told us he wanted to comp appetizers for our party, and then he whipped out a gift card, loaded enough for a free hour of bowling for our group to come back. He apologized again (and again), and assured us that we were in good hands with our waitress, Molly, and she was going to make sure we had a good night. Then he gave me his card and told us to tell him if we needed anything and when we were coming back in to bowl.
My mood went from disappointed and skeptical of the place to very pleased. We texted the other members of our party to warn them we wouldn’t be bowling, but everyone still wanted to come. By the time our friends started arriving, I was beginning to believe in the place. Matt had done exactly what he should have done — convinced us that Pinewood Social was worth forgiving, especially as they make their way through the growing pains.
And then our waitress showed up with free champagne. Yes, Matt, you were making us believers.
The appetizers were good — we got fried cheese curds, oysters, chicken wings, and fried broccoli (which was my favorite — it was pan fried, not at all what it sounds like, and was light and almost crispy). I wouldn’t say I was enamored with them, and I might not go back with a craving for any of them, but hey, they were free.
Our friends kept arriving… and arriving. But to her credit, our waitress was fantastic. She never seemed overwhelmed that our party grew for the next hour, until there were 12 of us crowded in a little booth. The booth was much more spacious than we originally thought, and with three chairs at the end of the table (the booth was a U shape), we fit 12 almost comfortably. Due to the shape of the table, we were also all close enough that we could generally converse easily, which isn’t something that happens in a group of 12 very often.
The cocktails were fantastic, which is what we were expecting from the artist of the Patterson House. I got “The Honesty of Constant Human Error,” which was a gin-based drink with yellow chartreuse, Lunazul Blanco tequila, strawberry and lemon. Manda and Laura both got a drink called “Act of Contrition” (which tasted good but I have no idea what was in it), and Marisa got a Pimm’s based drink, which reportedly tasted like Christmas — a neat twist, since Pimm’s always says ‘summer’ to me. The guys got beers, and they seemed to have a fair selection for a place not known for their beer.
Their dinner menu was interesting — a few traditional “bar” options, like a cheeseburger, but some twists on comfort food, too, like a mushroom pot pie. Manda chose the pork chop, and the bite I had was incredible. I opted for the cheeseburger, which was very good and juicy (two smaller patties with cheese on top and in between). It was better than your average cheeseburger, and I would probably order it again. Some would balk at the price tag, and since there wasn’t anything extraordinary to knock it to the next level, especially topping-wise, maybe it was a little over-priced. But it was good. For a side I chose their cauliflower salad, which was a twist on the old Church potluck broccoli salad — a light dressing with some nuts and white raisins. It was very good.
A few of us opted for dessert – Manda got the cherry-bourbon pie and Marisa and I both chose the lemon-lavender pie. The cherry pie was strange — it was cold and very heavy on the bourbon. I think my pie was better, although it was definitely on the tart side. I’m glad we got desserts (since we weren’t paying for appetizers!) but I don’t think I’d get them again.
All in all, we had a wonderful evening, but I have to chalk it up to the company (we had a really fun group and conversation ranged from the Loch Ness monster to 90s music to Martin Sheen) and the service of Pinewood Social more than Pinewood Social itself.
Food: It was good, but I think it could be a little more elevated for what we were paying.
Cocktails: Fantastic. Worth every penny.
Atmosphere: An interesting blend of elevated without being snobbish and laid-back without being sloppy. Now that I’ve been there, I know that you can’t just tell all your closest friends to meet you there and play things by ear. From the way they advertise themselves, you would think that would be perfectly natural — go and hang out, bowl a little, drink some coffee, wander. But it’s actually pretty formal and restrictive — you don’t waltz up to the bar and order a drink, you don’t wander around the bowling lanes if you’re not bowling, you don’t just “hang out.” That’s not a bad thing- once you know it. Now I know it. But the name and the aura they’re advertising makes it seem a lot more laid-back than it actually is.
Bowling: I wouldn’t know, would I? It looked like fun, and the lanes are from Indiana, so how could you really go wrong? And who wouldn’t want to bowl while having a waitress bring you nice food and cocktails?
Service: Superb. Our waitress was never pushy and I felt like we were free to take our time. She was knowledgeable without being pretentious and helpful and cheerful without being phony and annoying. She rolled with our punches (“there are seven or eight of us. Just kidding, there are three more coming. Did I say three? I mean four. Yeah, there are 12 of us.”) and made sure we had a great time.
Final verdict: I’m going back, and I would be going back even if I didn’t have a $40 gift card sitting on table. I was really looking forward to the Pinewood Social experience, and while I was disappointed in some things, I was intrigued enough to return. Even if it’s only for a game of bowling and an espresso.