ST. PETERSBURG — Pingpong is out of the garage and into downtown nightlife as St. Petersburg joins the ranks of bigger cities with a nod toward an old game that's a growing hit in today's pop culture.
SPiN St. Pete, a pingpong social club with a restaurant, bar and competitive leagues for all ages, is opening this summer at Jannus Live. It is the fifth of the SPiN Galactic franchises, currently in New York, Milwaukee, Hollywood and Toronto.
"The target demographic is ages 21 to 35, though the New York club has proven pingpong has no age limit. Kids love to play, and so do seniors," said Terry Tomalin, a founding member of the St. Petersburg club and also the Outdoors editor of the St. Petersburg Times. Jeff Knight, owner of Jannus Live, and actor Susan Sarandon, Tomalin's sister and a founding partner of SPiN New York, are the other partners.
"It's a game where you don't have to be great to have fun," said Sarandon, who became an avid player several years ago through her teenage son. "Pingpong is the ultimate ice breaker on a first date."
The club, which will have at least six "Olympic-quality" pingpong tables, will occupy 6,000 square feet downstairs in Jannus Live. It will be open to the public but also offer memberships with perks such as half-price tables, reservations and invitations to special events, Tomalin said. Membership prices and table rental rates haven't been set.
"It's going to depend on the night and the demand; there are a lot of variables," Tomalin said. "At this point we're just getting it up and running."
Membership fees at the other SPiN clubs range from $30 to $65 a month or $324 to $650 a year for individuals. Family membership rates range from $41 to $90 a month or $450 to $900 a year. Table rentals are about $10 to $20 for a half hour, depending on the time of day and the location. Members pay half that and can make reservations days in advance.
The club, which will be on First Avenue N between Second and Third streets, will also have a sit-down restaurant named Spin Kitchen featuring classic American food. "It will be open for lunch and dinner and serve the concert crowd and late-night crowd," Tomalin said. He declined to say how much the partnership is investing in the club.
About three years ago, pingpong started making a resurgence, starting in New York, then moving to other cities. Billiard halls were replacing pool tables with table tennis. Tony bars and clubs opened with pingpong as the main attraction for the well heeled.
The sport was born in England at the end of 19th century as an after-dinner game. Upper-middle-class Victorians cleared away the dishes and turned their dining room tables into miniature forms of lawn tennis. Books were lined up in the middle as a net, lids of cigar boxes were used as paddles and balls of string or champagne corks were batted back and forth. The term Ping-Pong is actually a registered trademark name; table tennis is the generic name of the sport.
Another factor that adds to table tennis' popularity: Players can compete with a drink in one hand and paddle in the other.