Ping pong is the new city game

Ping pong is the new city game
The Brooklyn Paper / Tom Callan

Ping Pong has bounced back.

Table tennis is finally out of your parents’ suburban basement and entering a golden — and urban — age with mini-courts popping up in bars, restaurants and even retail shops.

“It’s become Ping Pong world,” said Frankie Violante, the owner of Ocean’s 8, a longtime hangout with table tennis, air hockey and pool tables on Flatbush Avenue in Park Slope.

He said popularity spiked over the last two years when he started selling booze, a lubricant that somehow complements many of the nation’s most popular recreational activities.

The suburban sport of kings is literally becoming the sport of Kings County.

Perhaps not since the heady days of “Ping Pong” diplomacy in 1971 between President Nixon and Chairman Mao of Red China has the sport had such a presence in the public consciousness.

“Oh yes, it’s getting more popular,” said Nison Aronov who played 35 years of professional ball on table tennis courts in the frozen tundra of the former Soviet Union. He’s seen explosive growth since he opened the Brooklyn Table Tennis Club on Coney Island Avenue, a mecca for skilled combatants, six years ago.

Aronov has room for players of any skill level, he said.

In DUMBO, the Water Street Bar and Grill recently began setting up a court for pickup matches after the kitchen closes.

And late night paddlers have started crawling out of the woodwork.

“We get a lot of people from the theater [St. Ann’s Warehouse] and the River Café,” said Nina Guardione, a waitress.

The action has been sizzling for about three months.

“We get regulars now,” Guardione said.

The passion culminated in a recent grudge match between the Water Street staff and its counterparts at the River Café. The Water Street gang allegedly won (and is now challenging that other DUMBO institution, The Brooklyn Paper, in a winner-take-all duel).

The competitive spirit overtakes Royale, a Park Slope saloon, which hosts a double-elimination tournament, often with a cash prize, for all comers on the first Monday every month.

“I knew we were getting a following when a guy showed up with his own paddle — in a case,” said James Bradley, a bartender who often oversees the games.

The table is often available for casual play, when there are no live shows in the bar, several other nights a week, “strictly for the love of the game,” said Bradley.

That love has sparked on ongoing schism within the Ping Pong community over whether game should even be called “Ping Pong.” Some people, like Violante at Ocean’s 8, say that only “table tennis” is acceptable.

“I have no feeling about it whatsoever,” said Mikey Weiss, an ardent player who owns Mikey’s Hook Up, a Mac store with a Ping Pong table in both its DUMBO and Williamsburg branches. “It’s like saying ‘soccer’ or ‘football.”

In fact, Ping Pong is a copyrighted brand name like Xerox or Kleenex — in this case, owned by Parker Brothers since the turn of the 20th century. The proud tradition of the sport stretches back to the rarefied airs of upper class Britons in the 1880s, but eventually became a prime example of Americana.

Weiss said he learned to handle a paddle — which he does really, really well (see sidebar) at family gatherings.

“I learned to play in the backyard,” said Weiss, whose brother played table tennis in the Junior Jewish Olympics.

Another devoted player said his commitment to the game was fortified at a young age.

“It was definitely something I grew up with in southeastern Ohio,” said Michael Masse, who works in Fast Ashley’s photo studio in Williamsburg, which has hosted table tennis tournaments in years past.

Aronov, the seasoned Soviet server, explained the universal appeal of table tennis, what some people say is truly the Beautiful Game.

“It’s exciting and very good exercise,” he said. “You can play 365 days a year without any injuries.”

Brooklyn Table Tennis Club [1100 Coney Island Ave., between Glenwood Road and Avenue H, (718) 421-2200]; Mikey’s Hook Up [70 Front St., between Washington and Main streets, (718) 596-1312] and [88 N. Sixth St. between Wythe Avenue and Berry Street, (718) 599-8906]; Ocean’s 8 [308 Flatbush Ave., at Park Place, (718) 857-5555]; Royale [506 Fifth Ave., between 12th and 13th streets, (718) 840-0089]; Water Street Bar and Restaurant [66 Water St., between Main and Dock streets, (718) 625-9352].