Power to the pong
Fanatical, fun and a little nerdy: Inside the Atlanta ping-pong revival
by Jamie Allen
BOUNCE WITH ME: Spectators worship at the altar of pong Monday nights at Sister Louisa’s Church of the Living Room and Ping Pong Emporium.
Visit Sister Louisa’s Church of the Living Room and Ping-Pong Emporium on a Monday night, and the usual sounds of bar-dom — jukebox tunes, friendly chatter, the cracking open of a fresh PBR — mix with the hollow smack of a ping-pong ball, gasping “oohs” and “aahs” from spectators, and the angry “Yah!” of a lost point.
A competitive ping-pong match is underway, and Church owner Grant Henry is facing off in the finals of his bar’s weekly tournament against Steven Carse, aka King of Pops. Along with being popular business owners in town, both men are adept pong players with idiosyncratic styles. Henry plays with a sandpaper paddle (illegal, by official table tennis rules) and a black glove; he sometimes smacks his paddle against his hand after points and hollers like someone driving cattle. Carse, meanwhile, uses his lanky arms to loop odd underhanded forehands, calmly smacking the shit out of ball after ball at Henry.
Though ping-pong by its very nerdy nature is not considered a serious game by most who witness it, it should be noted that this game between Carse and Henry is very, very serious. Both want to win badly. And though the opponents like each other, they don’t want to lose to each other. Especially in a bar. With people watching.
Every week in Atlanta, in bars from Inman Park to the Old Fourth Ward, dozens of dramas play out over ping-pong tables. For reasons attached as much to trendiness as to local efforts by pong enthusiasts to revive the sport, ping-pong suddenly has become a bar pursuit of choice in Atlanta.
The local ping-pong revival has coincided with the opening of a series of new bars over the last year, namely Church, Victory Sandwich Bar and the Music Room. Church hosts a popular Monday night tournament that has featured as many as 32 competitors. Victory Sandwich Bar and the Music Room entertain customers with tunes, drinks and the game that is, believe it or not, the second most popular participatory sport in the world behind soccer. Inman Park staple the Albert switches from pool to pong pub on Tuesday nights for its house-cash tournament. [. . . read more]