Ok, so we’ve got cafes that serve cereal; a trampoline park with a laser maze and mega slide; people going to work in light-up trainers… will we all be tucked up in SuperTed quilts, dribbling Um Bongo onto our chests, before Generation Woke realises we’ve regressed too far? Probably, but that day isn’t today. Today we go further down the Benjamin Button rabbit hole into Dalston’s first adult ball pit.
It is named, wait for it, Ballie Ballerson. I know, but as a former slave to the Wacky Warehouse I can’t help but feel pulses of excitement. Ball cannons… Panda Pops… Oh, mercy! The way that the place works is simple: on entry, you’re given a wristband and a two-hour time slot to access the pit. Outside this allowance, you’re left to the cocktail bars upstairs.
It takes walking up and down the road five times to find the place – it doesn’t even have its name shown, just a symbol. You’d think that’d be an improvement, right? That nothing can be worse than Ballie Ballerson, a name worthy of a second-year house share in-joke? Wrong. The company’s emblem is simply ‘#’.
Walking past bow-tied barmen, dodging drinks with helium balloons attached, wincing at neon graffiti and eventually ordering a “testosterone-inducing” cocktail named MARS, a hashtag feels perfect. Bereft of irony or thought about its surroundings, it’s like Ballie’s been designed inside a cultural vacuum by a team of AI Bots briefed with charming the snakes of the city.
But I’m not here for the drinks, am I? I’m here for the balls. So I blow out the flame in my drink, see it off – they’re not allowed up in da pit – and make off downstairs. I hear giggles and yelps; those bubbles of excitement return. Turning around the corner, I see it: glowing balls like frogspawn, swelling with effervescent colour, vibrating in time with gut-throttling thumps.
It looks irresistible, so I run over and dive into the deep. Swimming through, I feel liberated, then my head hits a wall. Scratching my bump, I look around – people take selfies; couples pet heavily; a bouncer stands arms folded, trying to command respect, but he’s waist-deep in balls. Right, this is no ball pit. It is a dancefloor – no slides or rides; less Panda Pops, more photo opps.
As this may be the last place on earth you’re going to see a bunch of meathead lads – it just requires a suspense of self-awareness they’re not really capable of – there’s a light, jovial atmosphere of people larking about. For ten minutes at least. After that, everyone kind of looks at each other, out of breath, out of ideas. We all want this to be great, but there’s just not enough to do.
And despite a compelling concept, Ballie Ballerson is a swing and a miss, destined to be one of those “remember that?” places. Better dreamt about than lived.