A new bar/club called Spin at the Standard Hotel in downtown has opened with… (Michael Robinson Chavez/Los…)
Susan Sarandon and hotelier Andre Balazs sit side-by-side watching Pasadena's 16-year-old Olympic pingpong prodigy Erica Wu battle her opponent in a heated game of table tennis. Their eyes follow the tiny white ball, back and forth, back and forth.
A breathless announcer in a tacky gold jacket tells the crowd, “It takes a royal couple like Andre and Susan to make this thing happen! I've never seen this in the history of table tennis!”
Indeed, this is a rare moment for pingpong, which until a few years ago was associated with dank basements and cheap beer. But this is SPiN LA, Sarandon's newest pingpong social club on the second floor of Balazs' downtown Standard hotel.
At the club's opening Tuesday night, celebrities including Vincent Gallo and Topher Grace nibbled on hors d'oeuvres, sipped Champagne and watched white balls fly at custom red tables in two rooms. Employees wore smart tennis whites, and giant black-and-white photos of table tennis-playing elite, including one of President Obama, adorned every wall.
SPiN is Sarandon's fourth pingpong social club with boyfriend Jonathan Bricklin and partners Franck Raharinosy and Andrew Gordon. Sarandon and Bricklin were inspired to open the first club in New York in 2009 after Bricklin hosted a series of successful pingpong parties in his TriBeCa loft.
“They just got a table to have fun and all of a sudden they had rappers and models and Salmon Rushdie showing up,” says Sarandon, sitting in the restaurant at the Standard with Balazs. “And they thought it would be great to open a place. We've always wanted to come to L.A., and with the Standard and Andre we have the perfect combination of smart, sexy and fun.”
Balazs is an avid pingpong fan and player — he even attended the Olympics this summer to watch table tennis.
“It prolongs mental acuity, like bridge,” says Balazs, who was wearing striped sweat bands on his wrists in preparation for an upcoming match. “It moves so fast, I think it takes a quarter of a second for the ball to cross the net, so its almost Taoist, you don't have a chance to react in real time.”
That certainly seems to be the case upstairs, where white plastic balls litter the floor, accumulating as they are missed by dozens of players across the room. Baskets full of new balls sit beside tables, and drinks clutter every available surface. A sleek check-in counter serves as the entrance to the stylish club, where players are issued custom paddles and balls for between $20 and $30 per hour, depending on the time of day.
It would be easy to compare the process to that of an exceptionally hip bowling alley, except “you don't have to wear someone else's shoes,” says Sarandon, who is wearing a smart pant suit and seems to know everybody in the room.
Also, pingpong is a more rigorous sport than bowling, says Balazs.
Sarandon hopes SPiN will serve as the beginning of a budding “pingpong nation,” adding that a true community of players is the goal. If you become a member of the club in Milwaukee or Toronto (so far the only other locations besides New York), your benefits extend to L.A., although you don't have to be a member to play. You can also sign up for lessons with pros.
“We're reaching out to the art community, the film industry and other groups who we think might be interested in setting up leagues,” says Sarandon, adding that the first person to rent out the original SPiN for a private party was Bill Gates.
Next up for SPiN? A club in Dubai. But before that, Sarandon and Balazs look forward to spreading the gospel to Angelenos. However, don't expect to see Sarandon playing much pingpong. “I represent those people who just have fun,” she says, laughing. “I fool around and have a good time, but I crumble when there's competition.”
SPiN LA at the Standard
Where: 550 S. Flower St., L.A.
When: Noon to 2 a.m. Sun. to Thurs.; noon to 3 a.m. Fri. and Sat.
Price: $20 to $30 an hour per table for nonmembers
Info: (213) 439-3065; losangeles.spinalactic.com