I took a sip of my Negroni and flinched — not because of the drink (though it was sweeter than I prefer), but because a ping-pong ball had, just at that moment, ricocheted off the back of my head.
Such minor insults to one's dignity are the price of admission to SPiN, the chain of table-tennis-and-cocktail bars that opened its sixth location in Philadelphia last month. Fortunately, judging by the steady stream of visitors climbing into the bathtub full of bright orange balls — and sending them overflowing in a downright Archimedean demonstration of displaced volume — dignity does not seem to be a primary concern here.
It was with some trepidation that I'd ventured into this high-end take on a basement rec room on a recent Friday evening. That's mostly because my hand-eye coordination is about that of the typical, highly inebriated adult (or a dead-sober toddler). The last time I attempted ping-pong in a public place, at Frankford Hall in Fishtown, I spent most of the time lunging hopelessly in pursuit of the ball and the rest of the time contemplating the least awkward approach to retreiving it from underneath someone's chair.
But what I did not anticipate — and what makes this place highly enjoyable, even if you happen to be tragically clumsy — is that SPiN has solved this problem. Here, one can fail without consequence, thanks to a small army of stoic groundskeepers who roam the floor with purpose-made ball scoopers.
"That is our one contribution to society," SPiN cofounder Jonathan Bricklin agreed: "not having to go get your ball."
We arrived at 8:45 p.m. Though we didn't have a reservation, we were quickly led to a table, which cost $22 per half-hour. A waitress stopped by with menus and took our drink orders.
So, without having to find a bar or dive after missed balls, I was free to lose four consecutive games in comfort. I did so between sips of That Gin Jawn, a cocktail made with Hendrick's, Cointreau, and homemade Thai basil syrup served in a coupe that, by some miracle, was not garnished with a ping-pong ball during the course of the match.
The space, vaguely industrial and graffitied with work by half a dozen local artists, reverberated with crowd-pleasing hip-hop and runaway ping-pong balls. (The bar areas, one off to the side and the other elevated, are strategically sheltered.)
There is league play on Mondays. Lessons are available during the week. But on Friday night, it seemed to be mostly the work-hard-play-hard crowd — men in khakis and button-down shirts early in the evening, replaced by a more diverse scene later on.
At 10 p.m., there was the weekly Friday night show, starring ping-pong pro Lucy Ma, a University of Pennsylvania pre-med student with a flair for quietly humiliating grown men. Amateurs could attempt to return Ma's serve to win a shot of liquor, or they could challenge her to a match in which she used a shoe or an iPhone instead of a paddle and was thereby rendered merely very good instead of unbeatable. There was also a dance-off, which inexplicably departed from the ping-pong theme, then abruptly returned to it when a woman bounded up onto a ping-pong table, wine sloshing out of her glass, to exhibit her moves. Like I said, in this place, there's no shortage of balls.
211 S. 15th St., 267-463-4850, philadelphia.wearespin.com
When to go: Before 5 p.m. or after 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, when tables are just $25 per hour. It's open 11 a.m.-midnight, Monday-Wednesday; 11 a.m.-2 a.m., Thursday-Saturday; 11 a.m.-10 pm., Sunday.
Bring: Anyone. Who doesn't like ping-pong? (Note: It's 21+ after 9 p.m.)
Order: The beer menu is stacked with local favorites on draft: Victory, Troegs, St. Benjamin. Or go for a $140 bottle of Veuve Clicquot if that's how you get when you play ping-pong. (There's also menu of bar food: flatbreads, pastrami tater tots, three kinds of sliders.)
Bathroom situation: The maze of a communal sink area with men's and women's rooms hidden beyond it is, at the least, a conversation starter. I struck up a brief conversation with a man who was confused to see me across from him where he was expecting a mirror to be. We agreed the gimmick felt like a throwback to Stephen Starr, circa 2002.