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How Ping-Pong Around the World Can Bring Travelers Together

Competition makes for better friends than small talk.

We’re all for being that solo traveler at the bar. But if you’ve ever been at a bar alone wishing there was something to do other than figuring out how to strike up a conversation, then you’ll understand where Spin, a new bar/social club sweeping the nation, is coming from. Spin, which bills itself as a “Ping-Pong social club,” is equipped with multiple bars, sitting areas, and, of course, Ping-Pong tables, which are open for everyone to use for a fee. You don’t have to play to be there, either—some of the most fun moments are sitting around, eating the (actually) delicious bar snacks, and sipping cocktails while watching the games unfold. We chatted with Pieter Vanermen, Spin’s CEO, to find out what makes this model work—and why it’s especially appealing for travelers.

What’s the purpose of Spin?
PV: “We call ourselves an offline social network, because these are places that force you to connect with other people in a physical space. Really, it’s always been about bringing people together.”

How did it start? 
PV: “It started seven years ago as an ongoing party put on by two friends in their Tribeca loft. It really caught on, and soon it went from one Ping-Pong table to four and artists like Snoop Dogg were performing. Then, their lease ended.

“Things had gone so well that the guys ended up meeting with an investment banker, who gave them the money they needed to open the first Spin in a basement at 23rd Street and Park in New York. From there, it’s grown rapidly.

“I think the concept works well because it’s an interesting tool for introverted people. During a Ping-Pong game, you’re connecting with other people. But you don’t have to talk, and that’s the beauty of it.”

Where are you located currently?
“The first Spin opened in New York seven years ago. Since then we’ve expanded to Los Angeles, Toronto, and Chicago. And this spring, we opened our newest location, in San Francisco.”

How big are you looking to get?
“Our goal is open three more clubs per year in major U.S. cities like Washington, D.C., Boston, Seattle, Miami, Dallas, and Austin. Simultaneously, we’re looking to expand to Montreal and Vancouver in Canada, and we’ve started conversations with partners in Asia about opening Spin in places like Tokyo and Shanghai.”

What does Spin offer besides Ping-Pong?
PV: “In New York, we have DJs playing five nights out of seven. Most of them are lesser-known names or not known at all. We want to give up-and-comers a stage to showcase their sound for an audience. We’re looking to have a similar schedule at our San Francisco location. In Toronto, L.A., and Chicago, we have a mix of music and other types of events, like competitions and even lunch ’n’ learns surrounding the game of Ping-Pong.”

What inspired the decor?
PV: “Everything at Spin is centered around inspiring creativity. We have our walls decorated by local street artists in each city we operate. We give them a wall and freedom to do what they want with it.”

What about food and drinks? 
PV: “Our food isn’t the typical bar food. It’s all in shareable sizes, and it’s on the healthier side. So you and your friends could get a big kale chicken salad to share, or maybe sliders or a vegan flatbread pizza. We also serve custom, carbonated cocktails that we bottle ourselves, as well as the usual bar drinks and a few other specialty drinks.”

What’s your favorite part about Spin?
PV: “I’ll answer this with one of my favorite moments. Once, in New York, I saw the perfect example of Spin being a place for everyone. We had a set of tables that were rented out by the football player Victor Cruz, and he’d invited a bunch of his team, his friends, and some Victoria’s Secret models. The table right next to that was a Goldman Sachs party. And the fourth table in that row was rented out by a 93-year-old woman who was practicing her hand-eye coordination. It was so cool to see.”

What makes Spin an especially great place for travelers? 
PV: “I absolutely encourage solo travelers to come join. We launched a tournament called King of the Courts in some of our locations, and it caters well to solo players. You basically come in, pay a $10 cover, and join in. It’s a great way to connect with other people in whatever city you’re in instantly.

“In general, renting a Ping-Pong table or joining a game is a great way to meet someone new. You don’t have to worry about small talk because you already have something to connect over.”

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