It’s a fact that Toronto really loves fancy versions of things that should be cheap. Like eggs. And grilled cheese sandwiches. And, now, ping pong too.
The 12,000-square-foot digs of Toronto’s newest novelty hangout SPiN, referred to as a “ping pong social club” on its website, are located down a red brick alleyway on King West, sandwiched in between the ritzy restaurants and flashy clubs that attract crowds in high heels and power suits on any given evening. At its official launch party last night, the usual King Street suspects (with a few notable celebs like table tennis champ/supermodel Soo Yeon Lee, Susan Sarandon, and an unexpected Judd Nelson) traded the hardwood dance floor for linoleum laminate, fist pumps for backhanded serves, and heavy beats from a DJ booth for, well, heavy beats from a slightly smaller DJ booth.
With the previous buzz of The Ballroom’s club-icized take on bowling still resonating around Toronto, the city awaited SPiN’s similar spin on ping pong with anticipation since the idea was first announced in February. With hourly rental rates for SPiN’s 12 tables at $20 before 5 p.m. and $28 after 5 p.m., and yearly memberships for $300, not to mention a ping pong club with its own signature cocktails and an executive chef churning out snacks like gourmet pretzels and (you guessed it) grilled cheeses, it’s needless to say our curiosities were piqued. Factor in a peculiar ping pong supporter, Susan Sarandon, and we had ourselves a bona fide hotspot. So as we descended SPiN’s steps to get our first glimpse, we expected the leisure-meets-luxury of SPiN to be a topspin. But while there were a few smashes, there were also some awkward misses.
The underground space is a finely manicured mix of the industrial and outdoorsy—with exposed piping, grey floors, and stark white walls accented with beech wood banquettes and tables, tea candles, and grass-green cushions. A blue and white mural of wily raccoons adorns the wooden slats that separate a private playing room, and two fully stocked bars link the two larger rooms. Overall, it looks like the basement of the kid from Blank Check if he had a thing for ping pong rather than waterslides and padded sumo-wrestling suits. Black lights eventually added a little more atmosphere to the place, but unfortunately as night fell the lights stayed on inside—an unflattering harshness that is completely necessary as increasingly uncoordinated paddlers swat tiny orange balls at increasingly higher speeds.
Which brings up another problem—while the risk of being hit by errant bowling balls soaring through the air are slim, a night at SPiN requires some quick reflexes if you want to avoid getting a few balls in the face. And then having to suffer jokes from your friends about getting a few balls in the face. While ball boys and girls pick the floor clean with fishing-like nets and promptly refill the gleaming chrome buckets beside each table, there was a constant fear of tripping among the high-heeled guests.
Founder Ryan Fisher opened SPiN with the intent of bringing the classic game out of the realm of children and introducing it to more adult tastes. And as we stepped up to a table to start a rally, we realized how fun ping pong and a little friendly competition can be. We looked around, and suited lads and coiffed ladies alike seemed to be enjoying picking up the game again. In an area of town where the space for a personal ping pong table is unthinkable for most of us, SPiN offers a nice alternative. As a nightclub, it’s a bit awkward. But as a casual hangout, it has potential. Just be mindful of wayward flying objects—the way you handle inevitable collisions could have you leaving with someone on your arm, or a few bruises.