It’s not clear if ping pong hustlers are actually a thing — or whether ping pong should have a hyphen in it (AP style dictates “pingpong,” which … come on) — but table tennis aces have a new home as the massive ping pong bar Spin recently bounced (sorry) into downtown Seattle. Our city already has bars for pool, pie, and pinball, so we might as well have one for drunken ping pong too.
Part of a national chain originally founded by Jonathan Bricklin, Franck Rahanirosy, and Susan Sarandon (yes, that Susan Sarandon), the massive 10,000-square-foot facility features 12 ping pong tables, large scale street art, a DJ booth, and a bathtub filled with balls for some reason. At times I had the urge to submerge myself in it, because before Spin, I’d never felt uncool around ping pong players.
The space is certainly slick as hell. This ain’t your daddy’s ping pong, this is #pingpong. Servers wear shirts that say “United by Ping Pong.” At Spin, the game isn’t just about drunkenly hitting a tiny, harmless ball, it’s about “life,” “community,” and all those other hyperbolic buzzwords peddled in flashy iPhone commercials.
Though Spin provides a perfectly respectable place to enjoy the undeniable fun of playing ping pong while drinking, the proprietors clearly want you to selfie the hell out of yourself in their space. Hashtags are literally painted on the walls (hashtags should never be mentioned unironically in the real world). Much of the street art seems engineered for social media sharing: Darth Vader and a Storm Trooper in suits, a wolverine holding a paddle, a tiger face in a giant picture frame with a novelty-sized paddle meant for photobooth-esque posing. There’s even a selfie machine with a paddle that you can poke your head through. (Sure, I took a picture with it, but that’s neither here nor there.) Everything is geared toward pure, uncut Instagram hype.
Branding aside, what’s ingenious about Spin is how they handle the balls. Gone are the days when you’d chase a rogue white sphere across the room, eventually lying down on your stomach to reach for it under the sofa while the cat scratched your hand. There’s no need to track down balls here. Every table has a big bucket of them on an adjacent bench, so when your thunderous smash or errant shank goes haywire, you simply let it go. No matter where you are in the bar, balls will inevitably roll up against your feet like needy puppies.
But what happens if the buckets run out? They don’t. Ball boys and girls patrol the room like Roman sentries with ping pong ball catchers, which they simply press onto the ball and suck into a pouch. It’s a hypnotic routine that I could watch all day. And while the best thing to do at any driving range is aim for the guy inside the caged golf cart, no one appears to be trying to hit the ball people at Spin.
In addition to casual play, Spin features a social league, weekly competitions, and a tiny selection of gear, including red short shorts and cans of balls resembling Campbell’s Soup. They don’t serve Campbell’s Soup at the bar, but you can grab ping pong themed drinks like the Lob (vodka, gin, and green tea) and Backspin (Suntory toki, BroVo curacao, Jelinek amaro, etc.), as well as sliders, sandwiches, and flatbreads. Astonishingly, they’re served on regular plates, not ping pong paddles.
The most disappointing aspect of Spin? That Susan Sarandon didn’t co-found it with Geena Davis (okay, Sarandon didn’t technically co-found this specific location, but still). How great would that have been? I’d much prefer a Thelma & Louise theme than the existing Exit Through the Gift Shop vibe.
Still, it’s nonetheless fun to play ping pong. And drink. And hit a ball at people taking selfies. Spin is a place where you’ll sometimes see patrons holding a paddle in one hand and their phone in the other. If there’s a better encapsulation of this bar, I haven’t found it.