A recent episode of HBO's "Entourage" included a scene at a bar called SPiN Hollywood that seemed to call out a new trend, with young scene-makers thronging around a set of pingpong tables. "Pingpong is the new billiards," actor John Stamos declared in what looked like a chic new loft-like club in L.A. with multiple pingpong tables and inspiring views of downtown.
If only the real SPiN Hollywood looked like the fictionalized version.
The actual L.A. outpost of Manhattan's SPiN New York, a pingpong-themed bar, opened in West Hollywood on July 20. But instead of several pingpong tables in a row and city skyline views (since the real SPiN wasn't open yet, "Entourage" filmed the scene on the 30th floor of the AT&T Center building on Olive Street), those who visit what used to be the Mondrian's small ADCB lounge are treated to just two cramped pingpong tables, cocktail waitresses decked out in tight T-shirts and views of, well, a hotel lobby.
"We looked at spaces in L.A., but for one reason or another it didn't work out," said actress Susan Sarandon, one of SPiN's investors and a self-professed table-tennis "propagandist." She acknowledged that SPiN doesn't exactly represent a stand-alone pingpong club, since it is technically a summer and fall pop-up bar within the Mondrian.
She noted, however, "Our philosophy is to have a club that is open seven days a week, during the days as well as the evenings… We want a community, not just a club, and the Mondrian can accommodate that."
It remains to be seen whether SPiN Hollywood can truly cultivate a community of table-tennis aficionados who are willing to pack into the hotel bar to shell out big bucks on valet, $13 cocktails and ping-pong ($20 for 30 minutes of play is the minimum after 6 p.m.). Still, Sarandon argued, "It's cheaper [than playing pool], because a lot of people can play all at once."
Those nighttime ramblers who stumble on the scene at SPiN Hollywood are enjoying a fresh infusion of paddle-heavy competition — rather than just another lobby lounge with plush couches and coquettish cocktails.
SPiN's founding partners are banking that the game will be a new amusement for night owls — and will power the expansion of the brand.
"We're treading a fine line between appreciating the comical elements of pingpong but also appreciating the athletic and artistic elements in a very sincere way," Jonathan Bricklin, SPiN's New York-based co-founder, said at the July opening.
The 33-year-old Bricklin (along with partner Franck Raharinosy) certainly marshaled an impressive display of talent at the club's splashy debut, including Korean pingpong player/pinup Soo Yeon Lee (who also appeared in the "Entourage" episode), who dazzled guests with an exhibition of her moves — all while wearing high heels, naturally.
Bricklin and Sarandon hope the Hollywood outpost becomes a sort of celebrity clubhouse for the game's casual boosters and semi-pro players alike. Lee, who lives in Los Angeles and has an e-mail contact listed on SPiN's website, says she will be at the club whenever she can, giving lessons to those who ask for them.
"Hopefully, it will offer L.A. something a little different — it's not just a matter of putting in a trendy cocktail list and a design-led bar anymore," said Ben Pundole, vice president of entertainment for Morgans Hotel Group, who helped place the concept bar inside the Mondrian.
"This space has more in common with the loft parties that we had in New York," Becklin said, alluding to SPiN New York's initial intimate incarnation as an in-the-know celebrity hang before the Flatiron District bar opened last year. He added that a Milwaukee franchise is set to open in September and that they are in talks to open in several other cities.
But is pingpong ready to jump from backyards to bars in L.A.? Brecklin and Sarandon say yes. Tune in to the next season of "Entourage" to find out whether Los Angeles feels the same next year.
Where: 8440 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood
When: 11 a.m. to midnight Sundays to Wednesdays, 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Thursdays to Saturdays
Cost: No cover ($40 per hour or $20 per half hour for game play after 6 p.m., free before 6 p.m.). DJs nightly. $10 validated valet parking.
Info: (323) 848-6000; http://www.spingalactic.com/hollywood