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Ping pong is so hot right now even world leaders are playing it. With its sociable nature and group-friendly vibe, it’s no wonder table tennis is set to become an event staple.
‘We’re always looking for inspiration, and we saw that in the States ping pong was really taking off,’ says Jonny Boud, partner at Ping (tel: 020 7370 5358), London’s newly opened ping pong bar and kitchen. ‘Most things that are a success over there usually end up being popular here too, and London’s been screaming out for a place like this.’
Following last year’s exchange of volleys between Barack Obama, David Cameron and south London students, as well as the head-turning displays at this year’s Olympic and Paralympic Games, tables are popping up all over the capital.
Once relegated to dusty garages and youth clubs, ping pong has upped its game. It comes with gourmet pizza at west London’s glossy Ping and new age fast food at shabbily chic Leon in Spitalfields. Or how about a side order of culture at Pongathon (tel: 020 7575 3285), a roving feast of art, music and ping pong that has a residency at the trendy Rich Mix in Shoreditch?
The latest pong temple to hit the capital is Bounce (tel: 020 3657 6525), from the brains behind retro bowling emporium All Star Lanes. ‘After the success of All Star Lanes, which we started in 2006, we had a real understanding of how to combine a fun and accessible party pursuit with good food, drink and an incredible atmosphere,’ MD Adam Breeden explains of the one-stop shop approach. Boud agrees: ‘It eradicates the need to find multiple places for cocktails, dinner, entertainment and then dancing.’
The beauty of ping pong for private events lies partly in the ease and speed of set-up after a meeting or dinner; tables at Bounce’s state-of-the-art private room can be ready to go before guests have even grabbed a drink. But it also appeals to our love of casual ’pub’ sports that can be played as part of a social event. ‘In the past 20 years, table football, pool and darts have dominated the after-work social spaces,’ says Pongathon’s MD Adrian Leigh. ‘Social ping pong represents a new way to engage, but it’s much more inclusive, active, fun and cost effective, particularly for group bookings.’
This article first appeared in Square Meal Venues & Events, Autumn 2012.