Many months ago, I gathered a group of friends and family to celebrate my husband's birthday. No one had ever been to Spin, so it was the perfect opportunity for everyone to have a terrific night taking turns playing a sport most of us adore, and sharing in conversation, drinks and appetizers. As we walked down the steps into the dimly lit lobby we were greeted by a friendly hostess in a chic black outfit, and it felt as though we had entered any other swanky Manhattan club. And yet, as we turned the corner we saw immediately that this was not the case. Instead of the usual dance-filled floor, at this club we were presented with rows of ping-pong tables and couples in heated competition. The diversity of the crowd was vast and only became more so as the night went on. Businessmen off from work, their white collared shirts glowing in the black light, rallied next to serious athletes there for a workout in gym shorts and sweatbands. Young couples looking for a quirky date played next to groups of older friends there to enjoy the nostalgia of this classic game. Everyone is welcome at Spin. Serious ping pong players make the circuits, challenging worthy opponents to games while casual paddlers compete in a more leisurely game. It has never been easier to enjoy ping pong, as Spin has eliminated the frustrating need for constantly picking up stray balls - staff with fascinating contraptions collect all the balls and reload the buckets regularly. Perhaps even more exciting, servers come by to the tables with what could be described as high-class bar food - some of our favorites were the alcoholic mango slushies, the fried rice balls, and the truffle mac and cheese. The delicious food and drink are honestly worth a visit on their own, and as the club often hosts championship ping pong games, even those who do not want to grab a paddle themselves can fill up a plate and watch the action. Originally opened by ping pong enthusiasts Franck Raharinosy, Andrew Gordon, Jonathan Bricklin and Oscar-winning actress Susan Sarandon, Spin has quickly become a hot spot both in other parts of the US and abroad.
Wang Chen is a famous female table tennis player who moved to the United States from Shanghai in 2000. In 2008, she gave a splendid showing at the Summer Olympics before ending her professional career. As part of her retirement, she founded the Wang Chen Table Tennis Club. For $20 each month, members can play unlimited table tennis. The Club offers after-school programs for children, one-on-one coaching for all ages, tournaments, and birthday parties. Observing Chen play while teaching a student was a thrill. Her skill was immediately apparent as she casually hit the ball to a grown man who was sweating with the effort it took to return her swings. The Manhattan Sideways team then went to the lower level where we sat down on the steps overlooking several tables and became mesmerized as we watched both singles and doubles players hitting against one another. We all agreed that this was not the sport that we knew to be ping pong. These men and women took the game to a whole new level. Taking in my surroundings, I discovered photographs from Chen's professional matches covering the walls, as well as a paddle hanging that said: "To Wang Chen - thanks for kicking my... "