Ping-pong: we're having a ball!
London's hottest new venue is a… table-tennis club. Simon Usborne grabs his paddle and finds out how the game is becoming a social staple
We queued around the block behind velvet ropes for the launch party of a new bar in London. Inside: the sounds of cocktails being shaken, camera shutters clicking, canapés being consumed… and the ping-ponging of hundreds of little plastic balls.
Bounce is a cavernous former nightclub transformed with £2.5m into a ping-pong paradise of 17 tables, a 40ft bar (make mine a Wiff Waff, a G&T with a twist) and a 95-seat pizza restaurant. If table tennis has for a few years threatened to achieve what few indoor sports do – a semblance of cool – then Bounce seals its ascendancy.
Across Britain and beyond, a Victorian parlour game latterly played in church halls and on rickety garden tables – or by Olympic automatons – is spinning into new arenas. At least one member of Made in Chelsea attended the launch in August of Ping, a smaller venue in west London, while bars in cities all over the country are hosting ping-pong nights or clearing space for tables.
We look to New York for the origins of the new, sociable ping-pong. Susan Sarandon, the actress and table-tennis nut, was among the investors in SPiN, a Manhattan club that has spawned three more branches across North America since it opened in 2009.
Britain, too, brims with celebrity ping-pong fans. One Direction play backstage after gigs, Damon Albarn is obsessed, and U2 frontman Bono hosted a tournament last month at a GQ awards after-party in the home of PR bigwig Matthew Freud.
Elle Macpherson has booked a table at Bounce but the club welcomed sporting celebrities to its launch last Thursday. Timo Boll, the German world No 7 (above), left jaws slack after an exhibition game on Centre Court, a table salvaged from the London Games. So too did David Wetherill, the Brit with a crutch whose superhuman shot at the Paralympics has been viewed six million times on YouTube. He played for much of the night with the British Paralympic silver-medal winner Will Bayley, who said he hoped the post-Paralympic buzz would help his teammates to secure sponsorship in the run-up to Rio.
Watching it all alongside hundreds of amateurs beginning to see double was Dov Penzik, 37, a former county-level player who as a teenager competed for Britain at the Maccabiah Games, the so-called "Jewish Olympics". He had the idea for Bounce three and a half years ago and co-founded the place with Adam Breeden, the man who made bowling cool with his All Star Lanes clubs.
"It's a dream come true," Penzik told me after the launch. "Ping-pong was never regarded as cool. As a kid I played in dingy gyms and had to drag friends along to join in. But I always knew it would work as a social sport. People are realising how accessible the game is. It's also very theatrical to watch."
Bounce's final touch: its claim to be the home of ping-pong. There is some truth to this; the site near Chancery Lane was once the headquarters of Jaques, the posh English games company which patented one of the earliest versions of ping pong in around 1900. Back then, a trend swept Britain going on to take only 110 years to bounce back.
- 2 18th century sex toy found in 'toilet of sword fighting school' in Poland
- 3 US? China? India? The 10 biggest economies in 2030 will be...
- 4 'I wish my teacher knew...': Young students share their 'heartbreaking' worries in notes
General Election 2015: David Cameron catching up in polls – but he badly needs a clear lead
Alan Rickman admits editing 'terrible' script with friends in Pizza Hut behind backs of writers on Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
South Africa xenophobic attacks: Shops looted and violence on streets of Johannesburg as foreigners are forced to hide in police stations
18th century sex toy found in 'toilet of sword fighting school' in Poland
'I wish my teacher knew...': Young students share their 'heartbreaking' worries in notes
The only black face in the Ukip manifesto is on the page about overseas aid
If I’m being racially abused I don’t need a stranger with a saviour complex to rescue me
Ukip is the only main political party to not address LGBT rights in its manifesto
Food banks: One million Britons will soon be using them, according to Trussell Trust
BBC election debate: The one photo that summed up the whole 90-minute leaders debate
Religion isn't growing, it is becoming vigorous in its demise, says philosopher AC Grayling
£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...
£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...
£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...
£30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application ...