Amid the cement walls and low ceilings of a former glass factory on the north side of Moscow, After Hours Athletes have been gathering regularly on Friday nights for extreme nights of sport and revelry. Though it is commonly played in basements worldwide, the ping pong that has been found at this particular venue for the last four years is anything but ordinary.
Some familiar features of the game are present, to be sure. Regulation equipment. Highly skilled athletes. Fierce competition tracked on a scoreboard, for the ultimate prize--glory.
But that's about where convention ends, and a night with Ping Pong Club Moscow really begins.
These aren't tournaments; around here, they're known as Friday Fights. The players are more likely to be wearing flannel and ripped jeans than knee socks and athletic shorts. When they pause between sets for refreshment, it's not Gatorade but mystery punch (of dubiously performance-enhancing value) that quenches their thirst.
And even though this is ostensibly a ping pong club, it's hard to say whether ping pong is even the main event, as the action happening around the table gives the game a run for its money. Fight nights boast open bars, DJs and live performances from rising indie bands, and are packed with young teammates making their own trouble from wall to painted wall.
The club had its humble beginnings in bars around Moscow like Denis Simachev Bar, Kuznetsky Most 20 and Bar Strelka. But led by founder Alexey Kiselev, this movement soon found its home at the Flacon. The parties that have been tallied there are uncountable; if those walls could talk, they'd say things we couldn't begin to publish here.
About a month ago, the Club held its Final Fight, and withdrew from this battle-scarred space permanently. But this story ends well: Their new battleground consists of a 40-court plaza in Neskuchny Gardens, adjacent to the famous Gorky Park.
As the weather gets warmer in Moscow this summer, look for the Club in their new home. And while you're there, be sure to stop by the PUMA Social Club right next door in Gorky Park, opening in July.
All photos courtesy of Ping Pong Club Moscow.