Usually I don’t like ping pong, but it was the end of summer and I needed something to hold onto. You know the feeling, you probably had it then too (you might even have been in New York City, too). Well there I was, gripping a paddle in a basement bar on Christopher Street called Fat Cat, waiting for a girl from South Dakota to serve a battle-scarred pong ball over a sagging net. Thanks to South Dakota, I had a new avenue to explore: ping pong bars.
So onwards I went, with you all in mind, to do reconnaissance on two of the most famous and popular ping pong bars in New York. Usually I will cover a more local booze beat, but as the year has just started and New York is our nearest big city, reviewing two fun spots within reach seemed, well, fair game.
A former tennis pro, South Dakota insisted earlier that we go into Fat Cat, a pool and pong institution and credentialed grunge grotto. For 50 cents a minute with the surrender of an ID or credit card, the two of us get our own mesh net-enclosed table and two grimy paddles. The whole thing cost 41 bucks: five for the door, 30 for the table, six for the mysterious beer I ordered off of the laminated menu (helpfully categorized as “IPA”).
Back at Fat Cat, the score was nine-nothing. Translation: sudden death. The drunk hipsters behind us sent balls into the net at my back, lacking my graceful backhand or South Dakota’s laser focus. Her serve. My return. The ball bounced into her half and she chipped the ball across the grimy table into my back corner. I flew sideways like Clint Eastwood catching the assassin’s bullet in “In The Line of Fire.” A second later, I was back with my beer and she was gloating. The place really started to fill up; an after-work crowd of hipster-types with mainstream jobs. Some people wanted our table, hoping desperately not to pay, which we took as our cue to leave.
Fat Cat rating: 3/5 glasses.
Ideal companion: Anyone under thirty.
New York is filled with characters and Susan Sarandon is one of them. Ms. Sarandon, star of “Thelma & Louise”, “The Lovely Bones” and “The Client” (though Vassar students will most likely know her as Janet from “Rocky Horror Picture Show”) translated her love for table tennis into a business. That franchise (in which she has partial ownership) is SPiN, an upscale table tennis bar on East 23rd street in Manhattan. Unlike Fat Cat, SPiN has a uniformly chic dimness, just light enough to see the people around you, but not light enough to feel like people are watching you suck at table tennis. My partner for the night is an old friend from the Upper East Side (who will henceforth be referred to as Upper East). We walked in, down a set of spiral stairs and through a clean and mod. One showed us to our table after we put an hour ($49) on our credit cards. I order something that numbs my face and costs fourteen dollars.
Jealously guarding our wire bucket of orange balls from the first daters at the next table, Upper East and I began. He did not approach ping pong with the same sort of violence or attention to detail as South Dakota. However, after I paid another fourteen dollars for another drink, he suddenly became a competent sparring partner. This transition I attributed to the drink in my hand: a tall, cool glass of what I later discover is called a “Public Frenemy.”
What makes this particular drink special is that it is made with not just a Hangar One brand Vodka (the very peak of my liquor bucket list) but H1’s “Buddha’s Hand” flavor. Buddha’s Hand is a citron, a hideous little citrus fruit popularly known for its Lamborghini-yellow color and crab-like fingerling shape. Together, the flavor is an exotic twist but still very much grounded in the citrus family, a bartender’s home and hearth. The vodka is mixed with spiced ginger syrup and squirts of lime and pomegranate juice. Altogether, it’s the sort of thing one forgets one’s drinking after a few sips, which, I suppose, is the ambition.
In a flash, the server returned to place a ten minute warning card in our basket. Almost pleadingly, Upper East and I took up her offer of another half hour. No money changed hands, but I had the sinking feeling that my summer job would not pay off if I paid for another hour or so. When she came back with another card, Upper East and I were ready to step out of the cool air-conditioned basement and onto the steaming world of street-level Manhattan.
SPiN rating: 4/5 glasses.
Ideal Companion: Susan Sarandon.