Spin Milwaukee, a table tennis-themed bar and restaurant in the Historic Third Ward, offers a unique setting for dates, double dates, girls' nights out, boys' nights out, bachelor parties and bachelorette parties. But can it roll as a weekend destination for families?
This was the question we asked when we set out on a late Saturday afternoon to test the combination of school-aged children and the sport otherwise known as ping pong.
Originally, we imagined the experience to be similar to bowling, but it turns out, table tennis is more interactive, mostly because everyone gets to play together and there isn't "down time" like there is while waiting for your turn to bowl.
The cost to play table tennis at Spin, 233 E. Chicago Ave., is reasonable. Before 6 p.m., it's $16 to rent a table for an hour or $8 for a half hour. (After 6 p.m. the price is $24 for an hour or $12 for a half hour). Only four people can play at one time, but larger groups can rent one table and take turns.
Family memberships are also available for $450 a year. "If you come more than twice a month you'll save money with the membership," says director of operations Eric Kaye. "But most families come on a drop-in basis."
Table tennis is a lot more active then we remembered. The sport requires players to really hustle, and kids might enjoy chasing after the balls, even though there are "ballers" who retrieve balls as well.
From a lazy adult perspective, this is gold. Plus, occasionally waiting for a fresh supply of balls allows for beer sipping. And from a kid perspective, the ballers are great because, at least with the three who were working during our visit, they're nice to kids and appreciate – or graciously pretend to appreciate – their help. One even tipped my son $1 which thrilled him. (Now he can't decide if he's going to set up pins at Koz's Mini Bowl or fetch balls at Spin when he's old enough to get a job).
Ryan Mischler has worked as a baller since Spin opened a year ago. Mischler almost never stops moving while on the job, scooping up white and orange ping pong balls with his long-handled net. He says he gets hit with the lightweight balls all the time, but only one time did he get injured on the job and that was when a man accidentally whacked him with a paddle.
"This job is awesome," he says.
We wondered if adult players would become annoyed by our novice ping pongers who, at first, hit the balls just about everywhere except onto the table. (One more "sorry" shout-out to the nice man who took a ping pong ball to the eyeball thanks to my kid's over-zealous serve.)
We did see a couple of kids who were extremely good at the sport and Kaye said they may host kids' tournaments in the future.
Because we were at Spin early-ish (about 4 p.m.), the majority of the people were very cool about the four or five groups with kids. Technically, kids are welcome at Spin until 9 p.m.
Although it is not printed on the menu, Spin offers entrees for kids that range in price between $5-6. Edible items include kid-friendly favorites like chicken strips, grilled cheese, a hamburger / cheeseburger, penne and meatballs or a chicken sandwich.
Spin also has a bar and restaurant, and the adult menu features moderately priced appetizers, sandwiches, salads and a few entrees. Sandwiches, for example, are between $9-10 and come with a side of cole slaw, fries or sweet potato chips.
We found the potato skins to be the star of the meal, but we couldn't complain about our veggie burgers. They were average to a little above average. The kids' meals were well prepared and plain, without any identifiable "green stuff," so they enjoyed them.
The bar features a wide range of beverages, from on-tap local beers to high-end cocktails. "Our clientele is very diverse and therefore so is our liquor and beer offering," says bar manager Stephen Ziel.
Spin features 13 regular tables, a center table where tournaments are held on weekends and two chalkboard tables. We did not have one of these but kids in particular might appreciate the ability to keep score or draw with chalk on the table.
Spin offers private ping pong lessons for $10 per half hour as well as birthday parties that cost $20.99 per child and include two hours in one of the private rooms. Each room features two walnut ping pong tables, a private lounge and personal staff. Kids also receive lunch (chicken fingers, burgers or grilled cheese), choice of Sprecher products or juice and ice cream sundaes. The package has a 10-child minimum.
Milwaukee is one of three cities to have a Spin. The others are located in New York and Toronto. They are owned by a group of five people, including actress Susan Sarandon.
"This is something Chicago doesn't have," says Ziel. "Milwaukee is usually five years behind, but in this case, we're ahead."
Overall, we really appreciated how much exercise the kids got during our excursion. Ping pong provides another option for family fun on winter afternoons and Spin is a place where kids and adults can enjoy themselves alike. Plus, the sport helps kids develop hand-eye coordination and their motor skills as well.
The best endorsement of Spin's family-friendliness, however, came from my second grader, who wrote in his journal after an hour of ping pong, "You might think (Spin) is just for grown ups, but you are wrong ... I went there and I am only 8. So beat it punk!" (Not sure about the ending but you get his drift).
Molly Snyder grew up on Milwaukee's East Side and today, she lives in the Walker's Point neighborhood with her partner and two sons.
As a full time senior writer, editorial manager and self-described experience junkie, Molly has written thousands of articles about Milwaukee (and a few about New Orleans, Detroit, Indianapolis, Boston and various vacation spots in Wisconsin) that range in subject from where to get the best cup of coffee to an in-depth profile on the survivors of the iconic Norman apartment building that burned down in the '90s.
She also once got a colonic just to report on it, but that's enough on that.
Always told she had a "radio voice," Molly found herself as a regular contributor on FM102, 97WMYX and 1130WISN with her childhood radio favorite, Gene Mueller.
Molly's poetry, essays and articles appeared in many publications including USA Today, The Writer, The Sun Magazine and more. She has a collection of poetry, "Topless," and is slowly writing a memoir.
In 2009, Molly won a Milwaukee Press Club Award. She served as the Narrator / writer-in-residence at the Pfister Hotel from 2013-2014. She is also a story slam-winning storyteller who has performed with The Moth, Ex Fabula and Risk!
When she's not writing, interviewing or mom-ing, Molly teaches tarot card classes, gardens, sits in bars drinking Miller products and dreams of being in a punk band again.