I Went to a Ball Pit Bar…and Things Got Weird
Update: Ballie Ballerson has now moved to Curtain Road, Shoreditch
I’d just fallen over and was quickly being engulfed by a quarter million white semi-translucent plastic balls. The people falling around me were creating waves of balls and making the levels rise until I almost went under. Techno music thumped through the air, filling my ears and making my pulse quicken. I tried to stand up but floundered, never quite finding my footing. A stranger’s hand suddenly shot through the crowd like a life preserver. I latched on as he heaved me up. “That was awesome!” I shouted.
When I heard about a bar in London that had a giant adult ball pit in their basement, I knew it was offbeat enough that I had to check it out. And if that wasn’t enough of a draw, they had a crazy cocktail menu that included the likes of helium, nitrogen, sparklers, and “the pill”. What was this magical place? Ballie Ballerson in Dalston. Yep, you heard me. Ballie Ballerson.
On a Saturday night, with ticket in hand, I hopped on a bus from Covent Garden, timed to just make my 9pm entry slot. Each ticket to Ballie Ballerson gets you two hours in the ball pit, with a designated start time indicated by the coloured wristband you get on entry. The night’s event was dubbed Glowy McGlow (I was sensing a theme here) and as soon as you entered you could see why.
The main level bar is quite tiny with seating for maybe 20 people. One whole wall is covered in a crazy, frenetic neon mural, lit by black lights. The opposite wall is covered in mirrors so that you really can’t miss the glow. A disco ball mirror covered statue stands guard in the corner, wearing a hot pink wig and a staff member wanders with a bucket of neon markers offering to draw on you. Two bearded hipster bartenders in suspenders dole out insane cocktails at the main bar.
I’d check out all that later though. First, I needed to see this ball pit. I squeezed past the main bar, gave a side eye to the shooter bar (me and shooters don’t get along), and stepped down the narrow staircase, hitting my head on some pipe in the process. The whole bar is cramped but I’m not sure the concept would work in a cavern.
Literally the only thing downstairs is the coat check, DJ booth, and the ball pit. Oh, and their mechanical ball cleaner, nicknamed Gobble Muffin, tucked away in a corner. They clean the balls regularly so you don’t need to worry about dirty balls here. The basement’s got a bit of a rec room vibe, if you had the coolest, quirkiest parents on the block. The floor is lit by LED lights which filter up through the layers of plastic balls. When I came down for a look there were 15-20 people in the pit, standing, dancing, or sitting among the balls.
I checked my coat and headed back upstairs. I needed a little liquid encouragement before I got into the pit. I also needed to see those crazy planet-themed cocktails with my own eyes. The two most popular, from what I could see were Neptune, based on charcoal and topped with whipped cream, then doused in liquid nitrogen to turn the cream to ice cream, and one who’s name I cannot remember but is topped with a road flare-type sparkler. Both are as much spectacle as they are drink. After looking through the menu, I considered Saturn which comes with a helium balloon garnish, or Uranus which comes with a “magic berry pill” you take first which changes the flavours making sour taste sweet. But in the end I went with Venus, because…gin.
Cocktail sipped, it was time for the pit! I ventured back downstairs and this time climbed the few steps up and back down into the sea of balls. What a weird feeling! My feet didn’t immediately find their way to the floor, so I was standing on a layer of balls which were really unsteady. I wondered, “If I crush one, will that make me a ball buster?” The puns are endless here. I make no apologies. It was more crowded than it was earlier so I couldn’t immediately fulfill the idea of just diving in. So I just sort of stood there, taking it in. Standing hip-deep (er…balls deep if I were a dude) in plastic balls was a new sensation. It was a bit like wading through thick water and a bit like a light lower body massage from a hundred of those back massagers with the spherical feet. Weird.
And it was hot. Hot as balls, even. My FitBit thought that my hanging out in a ball pit was an aerobic activity. I actually think that would be a super fun workout. I would sign up for a shallow “water” fitness class if it was held in a ball pit. I spent a half hour in the pit on my first trip: trying to stay upright (except when I’d intentionally fall back), trying to get up when that failed, and trying to figure out the hell how you actually dance while crotch-deep in balls. The answer is any kind of dance where you don’t need to move your feet. Then it was time to head upstairs for a cool down and a cold beer. Refreshed, I went back at it until my timeslot was over.
I’ll admit, I felt a bit awkward there on my own and it would’ve been more fun with friends, but I’m still glad I went for the experience. As a solo pit visitor, I became the group photographer for more than a few people. I also had to rely on the kindness of strangers sometimes to get back on my feet after voluntarily or involuntarily ending up on my arse. But at the end of the night, as I sat at the front of the upper deck of a London bus headed back to King’s Cross, sweaty and tired, eating Walkers cheese & onion crisps (because I’m basically British now), I was happy that I had stepped out of my comfort zone…and right into a quarter million glowing balls.
Would you ever go to a bar with a ball pit?
- Wear shoes that don’t come off easily. Something with laces or buckles are good. Don’t wear heels.
- Use a phone case with a wrist strap if you have one. If you drop your phone, you’re going to have a bad time.
- If balls start flying, watch your face, even at a slow speed they sting for a second.
- The pit seemed to be at its emptiest on the hour and half hour.
- Who: Ballie Ballerson
- Where: 97 – 113 Curtain Road, Shoreditch, London
- Cost: Tue-Thur £8.46, Fri-Sat £16.60
- Requirements: 18+
- Includes: Two hour time slot in the ball pit