"If you want to beat him, push it to the left side of the table. He’s doing it all backhand.”
Josh Bowen is deep into his work on a Friday night in Chicago, roving the floor at AceBounce in a T-shirt that promises “I know things.” As an AceBounce Oracle, he roams the floor, offering tips on keeping score (the game goes to 21, server gets point), how to hold the paddle (up high, so the curve between your thumb and forefinger wraps around the junction of handle and paddle) and how to whup your opponent.
During the thick of happy hour, balls fly everywhere—into laps and purses, onto other tables—as Josh counsels his student of the moment. Following his advice, the 30ish woman goes left, immediately scoring a point, before going on to lose badly to her husband across the table.
The trend of bars focused on table tennis kicked off in 2009, when SPiN opened a location in New York. (Actress Susan Sarandon is a co-founder.) Since then, the chain has expanded to San Francisco, Toronto and Los Angeles, and last year in Chicago.
London-based AceBounce chose Chicago for its first U.S. location and opened the Clark Street spot downtown last year, a few blocks from Millennium Park and just across the river from SPiN.
Grab a paddle and a drink at AceBounce. Photo courtesy of AceBounce
Can one city support two Ping-Pong bars? The distinct crowds at each point to “yes.” SPiN’s purple lights and raucous music draw a group focused on the game but having a really good time playing, opting for an occasional break for a burger and a Backspin No. 3 cocktail.
AceBounce offers more of a high-end bar experience, pulling in people of all ages for craft cocktails, casual games of table tennis and memorable meals at 1901 Restaurant, where Chef Rick Gresh (formerly of David Burke’s Primehouse) cooks up inspired seafood and steak dishes as well as top-level fried chicken.
So why Ping-Pong, and why now? Henry Jimenez, an operations director with SPiN, has a theory. “We’re unplugged,” he says. “That’s something we pride ourselves on. You put the phone down and you actually interact with the person in front of you” (acebounce.com, wearespin.com).
Photo courtesy of SPiN