I’M GAME IF YOU ARE
Darts, table tennis and mini golf get a cool makeover at a new generation of London pubs
London has no shortage of pubs. You’ll find one on almost every street corner, from cosy, wood-panelled old boozers to cavernous warehouse-like drinking dens. But a new generation of London pubs has decided that serving drinks is no longer enough. What people really want are games. We’re talking slick, custom-designed venues where the games take centre stage. Here are four of the best.
Darts in pubs is hardly a new concept. Many older venues still have a solitary dartboard hidden in a corner. What Flight Club has done is take this sedate, rather old-fashioned pursuit and made it sexy.
The company has two London venues – one in Shoreditch and another in Bloomsbury. Both have beautiful interiors courtesy of the design team behind up-market hotels The Savoy and The Zetter Townhouse.
Each venue has multiple oches (throw lines) split over two levels, with plenty of space to sit and chat when you’re not playing. The best bit is that the entire set-up is operated using a touch-sensitive screen. There are four different games to choose from and the system automatically keeps track of turns and scoring.
There’s a wide selection of wine and beers but it’s the cocktail slushies that are the unexpected hit (the rum-infused Coco Fumada is particularly good). Food-wise there’s a good range of shareable snacks, including sliders, lamb skewers and pizzas. When the last dart has been thrown and a victor has been declared, celebrate in style with a Champions Cup – a cocktail served in a showstopping trophy.
Games from £15 (about $27) an hour.
Dismiss all notions of table tennis being played in a fluorescent-lit sports hall. Bounce has taken the sport underground, transporting it into two dimly lit industrial venues complete with DJs and UV lighting.
Its flagship venue in Farringdon has 16 tables (including the official table from the London 2012 Olympics) and has hosted games for Elle Macpherson and Gwyneth Paltrow. In 2015, it opened a second outpost in Shoreditch with 17 tables, one of which was used in the World Championships final in Tokyo.
Both venues offer full table service so you can order food and drinks without missing any of the action. Or you can dine in the adjoining restaurant which offers a menu of crowd-pleasers, including nachos, sliders and stone-baked pizzas.
Don’t be concerned if your table tennis skills are a little rusty. An army of net-wielding staff roam the venue collecting stray balls and topping up the buckets next to each table. And if you’re still apprehensive, steady your nerves with a pre-game Hurricane cocktail. This potent combination of rum, passionfruit and Angostura bitters probably won’t improve your game, but it will stop you from caring.
Table hire from £11 for 30 minutes.
Swingers is by far the most elaborate of London’s new generation of gaming pubs. Don’t be deceived by the provocative name, this underground venue is all about golf. The owners have transformed a vast subterranean space near The Gherkin into a verdant English country golf club filled with trees, creeping ivy and two nine-hole crazy golf courses. Whether you choose to tackle the Lighthouse or Windmill course, expect to be faced with some fiendishly tricky holes involving sand traps, jumps and even a loop-the-loop. Don’t worry if you’re not a golfer, the course rewards luck as much as it does skill, and the complex’s five bars ensure everyone stays in good spirits.
The venue has been popular with everyone from first daters to work gatherings. The layout encourages interaction and soon you’ll be cheering on the efforts of the groups behind and in front. Once you’ve finished your round, retire to the twostorey clubhouse for a drink on the terrace. Food is available from three of London’s best street-food vendors – DF/Mexico, Pizza Pilgrims and Patty & Bun – and nightly DJs ensure the party kicks on until late. Entry is free. Rounds start at £10 a person. SWINGERSLDN.COM
To describe the Four Thieves as just a pub does this Battersea institution a grave disservice. This entertainment metropolis has a buzzing restaurant offering everything from Latininspired tortillas to full Sunday roasts, a bar serving more than 70 types of gin, a microbrewery and a spacious, heated outdoor terrace. Venture upstairs and you’ll find a Victorianera music hall transformed into a gaming paradise. In addition to table tennis, pool and pinball, there’s a row of vintage arcade games, a virtual reality booth, minigolf and – wait for it – remote-controlled car racing.
This impressive set-up from Moonshine Raceway allows up to 10 racers to compete head-to-head on a proper mini race track. They’ve also squeezed an immersive escape room challenge into the basement.
The venue picked up a best pub nomination from Time Out just two weeks after it opened. And it has quirky decor and friendly staff.
THE OWNERS HAVE TRANSFORMED A VAST SUBTERRANEAN SPACE INTO A VERDANT ENGLISH COUNTRY GOLF CLUB
Flight Club London has made the sedate pursuit of darts sexy; steady your nerves at Bounce Ping Pong with a Hurricane cocktail.