The tiny orange ball is flying over the luminous strip of netting on their table as Roman Manastyrski and Danilo Baracho vie with each other for Ping-Pong supremacy.
It’s Glow in the Dark night at SPiN Galactic, a new Toronto social club, and the white shirts and shoelaces of various players are doing just that, as waitresses wearing multi-coloured glow sticks around their necks ferry trays of drinks around the 12,000-square-foot space.
Big fans of the sport, Mr. Manastyrski and Mr. Baracho met and began competing with each other at SPiN. The location is convenient, says Mr. Manastyrski, who works at a nearby bank, “and I can meet good players here,” he adds.
“It’s all about the social network,” says Mr. Baracho, a video editor, “about being with people.”
Already a success in New York, the concept of mixing the love of table tennis with other amenities typical of Toronto's thriving bar scene seems to be proving no less popular here. Open only a few months, the response, says operating partner Ryan Fisher, has been “phenomenal. Every day I wake up and say ‘I hope it's as good as yesterday.’”
Mr. Fisher, who runs the club with support from investors such as his father Ian and Stanley Adelson, owners of the Firkin Group, discovered the New York outpost of SPiN after searching online for a place to play ping pong.
“SPiN came up,” he recalled. “It had just opened. I saw it and I thought, ‘This is what I've wanted to do forever. I can't believe someone else has done it.’” Persistent lobbying – and the fact that he has been involved in the hospitality business since his youth – won him the franchise.
“We get a lot of franchise requests,” explains SPiN chief executive officer and co-founder Andrew Gordon, “and we have to be very picky. Our partners in these venues are extremely important, in terms of their knowledge of how to operate a business like this and carrying the culture of what we are trying to build.
“Toronto is perfect,” he says. Aside from being Canada's largest city, “it’s also very cosmopolitan. It’s got a great nightlife and is close to the corporate community, which really feeds our business.”
Together with Franck Raharinosy, Bill Mack and Jonathan Bricklin, Mr. Gordon was inspired to open a Manhattan hangout offering both sidespins and socializing in 2009, based in large part on the informal parties Mr. Raharinosy hosted in his New York loft.
Another more high-profile investor is actress Susan Sarandon. Together, they helped raise the sport to new heights of cool – attracting celebrities as diverse as actor Owen Wilson and writer Salman Rushdie along the way.
Much like the New York venue, the atmosphere in the Toronto club is a combination of 1970s basement and urban chic, bringing the nostalgia market to the modern, glassed-in downtown condo crowd. For Mr. Fisher, his mostly young patrons “are going out anyway, so this is an alternative for them. When they come here, they feel as though they're still at home, in a sense.”
Memberships run from $500 to $750 annually, and tables rent for $20 to $28 an hour, but a large part of SPiN's revenues come from corporate events.
The space boasts 12 tables, two bars, a restaurant, and hotel-style touches like a reception desk and coat check.
“People now know they have to book,” says Mr. Fisher. “On weekends, people are wise to the fact that we fill up and any gaps in our reservation system are taken up by people calling ahead.”
SPiN is just one of several new clubs dedicated to newly popular retro pastimes, such as The Ballroom, a luxe bowling alley in the same neighbourhood, and Andy Poolhall, a billiards parlour-cum-nightclub on College Street.
As Mr. Balacho pointed out, the whole social-network meme also plays a part. The company hosts a website called SPiN Social, where players can keep track of their personal bests and meet new opponents.
“We've found that a lot of our members who are using the site are now coming in groups,” said Mr. Fisher, “and all playing each other.”
“People check the social site every day to see what's happening,” he says.
For Mr. Fisher, the fact that table tennis isn't new is key. “It's not that ping pong is ‘hot’ right now,” he says. “People have been playing this game for over a hundred years.”
What SPiN has done, he says, is bring “the fun and the simplicity and the organic nature of the sport into an urban market.”
Despite its current popularity among the famous, “people know when they come here they're going to relax and have fun,” he said. “It's not pretentious.”
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