Would you recognize an international ping pong superstar if he came over and slapped you with his paddle?

Well, I wouldn’t, and I didn’t (well, ok, I wasn’t slapped with a paddle). Having wandered “inadvertently” into the VIP room at SPiN–NYC’s hottest (and only) all ping pong club on Park Avenue South–I struck up a conversation with one of the only other people in the room.  I knew this must be someone important, as he was wearing some kind of a sports uniform and was doing calisthenic warm-ups with a ping pong paddle in hand.

The lounge was swank, I might add, replete with romantic, plush couches, candle light, a private bar, and, of course, a luxury ping pong table. I made the usual chit chat one makes at such affairs: Do you like ping pong? (duh!) Are you having a good time? Are you playing tonight? (another, duh!).  I also rambled on a bit about my own childhood dabblings in the game as a hobby.  It wasn’t my best moment.

Yet, the chiseled athlete with his Swedish accent to match, smiled amiably, joking that after 3 beers he was going to be hitting at 2 balls, and he even agreed to have his picture taken.  Then suddenly we heard an announcement from the outer room: “Introducing five time Olympic Gold Medalist, 8 time World Champion, as of yet undefeated, Mikael Appelgren.” “That’s my cue,” he smiled, jogging out to the uproarious cheers from outside. Wow.

But let me back up and tell you why I was there and how I could end up talking to a world class ping pong celebrity.

Though I have the fondest memories of hours passing to the gleeful tick-tock of ping pong balls hit back and forth in my grandparents’ basement, I cannot say I know the first thing about hard-core, professional ping pong.  Still, I was excited when I heard about the World Championship party hosted by SPiN.  A 2 evening event–the first a championship exhibition, and the second night (which I attended) was a black tie soiree, showcasing world and local champions, and celebrating the weird, joyful seriousness that is ping pong.

It is appropriate, then, that Judah Friedlander–a “self proclaimed World Champion”–hosted both nights, serving as MC, at times referee, at times commentator.  Though he never actually demonstrated his talent for the game of ping pong, his commentary was surprisingly astute, if expectedly tongue-in-cheek.  Lux, vinyl couches were set up around the playing area, as were several sets of mini bleachers, where a handful of celebrities rubbed elbows and craned necks.  Among them, the most notable, Susan Sarandon, was guaranteed to be there, as she owns the joint.

Of the signature cocktails, served up by a very pleasant staff, the Wally margarita, a spicy twist on the classic, was my personal champion–especially when accompanied by their deliciously dangerous “boozy ice pops” (the mango-coconut one is killer).

And of course, what night at SPiN would be complete without a little action on the table?  Though, I lost terribly to my skilled opponent, the candid, nostalgic fun of the game, and of the night itself, was an all out win.

– Ava Fedorov