At downtown D.C.’s newest nighttime hotspot, orange balls keep falling to the floor and there’s a constant rhythmic tapping. But there’s no extraterrestrial haunting going on at Spin, a new-wave ping-pong parlor a few blocks from the White House. The ruckus is just several dozen people knocking balls back and forth on a dozen tables.
A retro, 1970s soul soundtrack courses through the 12,000-square-foot space where a handsome, horseshoe-shaped bar, jewel-toned seating and table tennis-themed art (a wall of vintage paddles, photos of famous players) add to the groovy vibe.
“So many people come in with a story about how they played in a neighbors’ basement,” says Malin Petterson, a Swedish national champion player who now works for the Spin brand. “But here, people are doing it to be social while they connect with other players and have a few drinks.” (Pour me a Spinmeister with rum, mezcal cacao nib Jagermeister, please.) It helps, too, that the place is open weekend days, and that you can bring the kids. And since serious ping-pong burns serious calories, indulging in the clever menu of brunch sandwich sliders, popcorn and desserts won’t induce too much guilt.
Yes, D.C. boasts a workaholic population, but Washingtonians also like to wind down with good, old-fashioned fun and games. And there are multiple welcoming ways to do that, particularly in summer months. Drop-in sports ops besides table tennis include City Running Tours, with guided group or private jogs around National Mall monuments and the Tidal Basin or a narrated trot through downtown zones (Shaw, Chinatown, 14th Street) impacted by the 1968 riots.
There are also multiple Ultimate Frisbee games even newbies can join, including a lunchtime match-up that’s been happening for 25 years on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 25th and M streets NW. The super active DC Meetup for pick-up soccer organizes games at locations such as the fields of the National Mall. “We’re largely focused on attracting out-of-towners—interns, people from other countries here on travel,” says administrator and player Jason Arthur Taylor. “It’s nice as a local to interact with people from other cultures. We’re increasing the chance for world peace!”
And, amid the bars and restaurants of the bustling Penn Quarter neighborhood, Kraken Axes lets you throw weapons at wooden targets in the name of fun or perhaps prepping for battle, in case that whole world peace thing doesn’t work out.
Some of the competitive amusements in Washington, D.C., challenge the mind, not the body. (No surprise, since locals joke that debate club captains, not football captains, move to the capital city after graduation.) Multiple “escape rooms” operate across the area, including Escape Artist DC with puzzle spaces including a mock Oval Office, “House of Pawns,” and Escape Room Live with locations in Georgetown and Old Town Alexandria, Virginia. The latter offers particularly family-friendly rooms with Sherlock Holmes, ancient Egypt and Titanic themes.
Then there’s Watson Adventures, which leads brainy public scavenger hunts most weekends at indoor and outdoor locations like the Smithsonian’s American History Museum and the National Mall. On a recent Saturday, a challenging hunt at the East Building of the National Gallery of Art saw 20 competitors on five teams solving complex word puzzles and searching for clues amid paintings by Andy Warhol and sculptures by Alexander Calder. “Some people walk into a museum and they’re overwhelmed. We comb through the art to find the most unusual or funny things,” says founder and president Bret Watson. “It’s a different way to experience a city or a place.”