review by Marion Rankine
There’s a great deal of mystery surrounding the birth of ping-pong. Boris Johnson ruffled Chinese feathers at the end of the Beijing Olympics by claiming – contrary to popular opinion – that the sport did not originate in China but in Britain.
Wikipedia suggests it was first developed in India by the British military. And according to the proprietors of new London ping-pong club Bounce, it was first played in the 1880s in a club on Holborn Street. It was given the dignified appellation of Wiff Waff and swiftly proceeded to take over the world.
Whichever version you believe, Bounce London has just opened up on what they claim to be the exact site of ping-pong’s birth – 121 Holborn. Inspired by New York club Spin, Bounce is notable for bringing together ping-pong, cocktails and food under the one roof. It officially opened to the public at 6pm on October 1, but we were invited along for a cheeky sneak preview a few hours earlier, to test out the tables and sample the delicious menu.
The low-key entrance looks fairly unassuming, but don’t let that deceive you. Venture down this rabbit hole and you’ll find yourself struggling to see whether Bounce actually ends, or just goes on and on forever into Ping-Pong Wonderland. It’s open-plan and absolutely massive, effortlessly accommodating fourteen ping-pong tables, a bar, plenty of seating, and a 95-cover restaurant. The Russell Sage-designed interior is a clever mix of industrial-chic, salvaged vintage, and your high school gym, marrying the somewhat disparate elements of the concept into a single place that looks seriously sporty yet a very attractive choice for a night out.
The bar, modeled on London’s Gin Palaces of old, is done in ornate wooden paneling, solemn dark colours and mirrored spirit bottles, complete with a sharply-dressed bartender. It has exactly the kind of gravity you’d expect from a place steeped in London tradition and the history of Wiff Waff. There’s an extensive selection of wines and spirits, and a delightfully English cocktail list inspired by, yup, ping-pong, with names like ‘Winning Smash’ and ‘Match-Point Margarita’ to get you in the mood for a rally or two. Meanwhile the spacious restaurant does traditional pizzas, antipasti and a selection of mains and desserts at very reasonable prices, with a menu centred around high quality ingredients, simply prepared.
Serious ping-pong afficionados take note: Bounce wasn’t just designed as a novelty night out. With all of the tables custom-designed by Butterfly and a membership programme including free entry to leagues, tournaments and all club events, Bounce takes its Wiff Waff very seriously. Spotlit in front of a huge scoreboard is the venue’s piece de resistance: an Olympic table from the 2012 games, the only Olympic ping-pong table open to the general public. There’s also a World Championship table positioned close by.
Members can pre-book, but Bounce is designed with the casual visitor in mind: drop in on a whim and if there aren’t any tables available right away you can sip on a cocktail or share some food while you wait. Since we’re visiting out-of-hours we pretty much have the run of the place, but we try to mirror a typical visit as closely as possible. Much too abashed to test our amateurish skills on the Olympic table itself (did I mention it was particularly well-lit?), we opt for a sleek pinkish one nearby for some casual back-and-forth over cocktails. My lovely companion chooses ‘The Pink One’ while I can’t resist the cheekily-named ‘A Shrubbery,’ a delightfully rummy concoction topped with a sprig of mint. We follow it up with a wild mushroom, baby spinach and truffle oil pizza. It has a delightfully crisp, stone-baked crust and the mushroomy flavours are mild but full. It leaves us wishing we had more room for seconds, but the ping-pong table is calling.
The best thing about ping-pong is that it’s wonderfully silly (for beginners like us, at least). It’s bouncy, it’s unpredictable, and it’s impossible to look dignified chasing after escaped ping-pong balls. Add to this a few friends and some delicious drinks and you have yourself the perfect prescription for a fun night out. As the doors officially open and the first curious customers drift in I imagine the place full and chattering, the staccato crackling of multiple ping-pong games mingling with the music, and make a mental note to return.
Bounce London, 121 Holborn, London EC1N 2TD See www.bouncelondon.com
Bounce London review by Marion Rankine