Smash, 5 Gun St, Reading, RG1 2JR.
All ‘information’ in this review is ‘accurate’ as of May 2016.
You know when you’re out for a few beers and you get that strong urge to play a bit of ping pong? Nope, us neither. But that hasn’t stopped the people behind ‘Smash’ from opening a ‘ping pong bar’ in town. Yep, you read that correctly. You’re now living in a world where the term ‘ping pong bar’ exists. And there’s nothing you can do about it.
They’ve been a thing in London and Manchester and other ‘cool’ places for a while now. So, naturally, Reading has jumped on the bandwagon four years late. Smash also concentrates on American craft beer – that equally ageing gimmick which definitely isn’t ever going to go out of fashion at some point soon and necessitate a total refurb and rebrand for half the bloody bars in town.
So then. ‘Smash’. Let’s get on with it. But first – it’s worth pointing out for fans of forty year-old adverts, that this place has nothing to do with instant mashed potato-eating robot Martians. Sorry to disappoint.
Drink Selection: Crafty. Half a dozen draughts, with a couple of lagers and four or five craft beers, props up a decent selection of unusual craft beer bottles.
Location: Gun Street. A few doors down from The Purple Turtle. It’s the downstairs of Sakura, the slightly Japanese-themed nightclub. Until recently Sakura occupied both floors, but the need for the people of RG1 to have the option to play table tennis while drinking £5.50 bottles of beer was just too damned strong.
Atmosphere: When you first walk in it’s quite agreeable. Air conditioned, fresh and clean. Sure, it’s new – it should be nice and tidy. But first impressions are good, even if there is a nagging feeling that you’re just in another fake American bar. But the atmos changes from ‘nice enough bar’ to community centre though, when you step into the main room. Half of the room is dominated by four imposing full-sized ping pong tables. The gimmick hits you almost as fast as dozens and dozens of ping pong balls do… “Jesus. Everyone’s playing table tennis in here. This is fucking STUPID.”
Food: Pizza. Choose from toppings like goat’s cheese, pepperoni or dozens and dozens of ping pong balls.
Pub Games: Yeah. Ping pong. And if you don’t like ping pong – try playing ‘sitting down and having a beer while you’re pelted with ping pong balls’ (and you really are nailed with them, it’s quite bizarre…). Or ‘attempting to walk without standing on a ping pong ball, falling over and fracturing your skull’.
Toilets: Aye. But they’ve not been refurbed. Unless you count a few sheets of tacky beer bottle motif wallpaper slapped on the cubicle walls. Which you shouldn’t. Also, attempting to slalom through eight people enthusiastically playing table tennis to get to the toilets is a bit of a mission.
TV Sports? Surprisingly, yes. That said, the screens aren’t the biggest, so while you can keep an eye on a match or whatnot, we can’t really recommend it as a venue to pile into for a big game.
Decor: The theme is, ping pong aside, ‘American bar’. And all the bits are there. But it smacks of a lack of authenticity. It’s as though the interior designer hasn’t actually been to a bar in America, but based their idea instead on an American bar they’ve been to over here. Monochrome punk gig posters, album art and photos of famous types playing the ol’ wiff waff adorn the walls in that tacky fake way that has people like Tim Lovejoy wearing bloody Ramones t-shirts.
Price: With 25% of the floor space devoted to £5 an hour table tennis tables that make Smash just £20 an hour, a mark up on booze is needed. That price tweak is felt less on pints than on bottles. The former clocking in between £4-£5, the latter mostly costing over a fiver a pop.
Beer Garden/Smoking Area: Apparently there’s a terrace, but we were buggered if we could work out how to access it. And smoking outside isn’t really an option, so we’re not sure. Mind you, fags are just going to slow you down at the table tennis table, you wheezing old sod.
Punterwatch: It’s new, so it hasn’t really got a settled audience yet. But from what we saw in there? It’s a younger audience. Sure, the novelty of playing a little table tennis with a few beers might appeal to older people. Once. But in time? Surely it’ll only be kids that hang out there. And kids don’t generally drink £4.90 Minnesotan IPA. Or do they? Maybe they do. Maybe adults like playing ping pong. Christ knows. We’ve lost touch.
So. There’s now a ‘ping pong bar’ in Reading. Which is good news for anyone who enjoys playing table tennis. Or having balls flying into their face. So your mum would LOVE it.