The Prince of Madagascar lives in a penthouse apartment at the National Arts Club, overlooking the barren trees and locked gates of Gramercy Park. The Prince loves Ping-Pong. His mission is to properly introduce Ping-Pong to Manhattan; he’s plotting Ping-Pong establishments all over the city.
So went the tale around a recent party at the National Arts Club for Argentine artist Rirkrit Tiravanija, whose works include a $40,000 Ping-Pong table made of mirrored glass. “Have you heard about the Prince who lives in the Penthouse? He’s about to open an exclusive Ping-Pong club.” The party featured an exhibition match between a pair of 14-year-old Nigerian-born twins and 78-year-old U.S. singles champion Marty Reisman.
The Prince is Franck Raharinosy, a 33-year-old fledgling filmmaker and Ping-Pong impresario who last week signed a 15-year lease for the 13,000-square-foot basement of 304 Park Avenue. In the past six months, Mr. Raharinosy says, he and three business partners have raised close to $1.5 million to build Spin, a 14-table Ping-Pong social club, which will include a natty members-only lounge designed by Todd Oldham and sponsored by sportswear designer Fred Perry. They hope to open in May.
“We call him the Prince of Madagascar,” said Jonathan Bricklin, 31, one of Mr. Raharinosy’s partners. “He lives on the top floor of the National Arts Club, and right below him he’s got his own private Ping-Pong room. It’s like his own little palace.”
“Franck can’t be stopped,” said Bill Mack, 35, another partner. “He’s the type of dude who’s going to meet a girl at a club and make out with her—or have sex with her in the bathroom.”
Until last spring Messrs. Raharinosy, Bricklin and Mack lived together in a Tribeca loft, which also served as offices for their film production company, Ridiculous Inc., which produces movies, music videos, celebrity events and documentaries such as The Entrepreneur, which tells the story of Mr. Bricklin’s father, Malcolm Bricklin, who founded Subaru of America when he was 28; the movie will be showing in New York later in the year. In the loft, of course, was a Ping-Pong table. The sporting fellows started throwing twice-weekly “Naked Ping-Pong” parties, sometimes featuring pro players and always featuring attractive women. There was no nudity but, according to Mr. Mack, “there was a steady flow of women in and out of Franck’s room. … He’s definitely had sex on the Ping-Pong table. His numbers are really high.”
On a recent Sunday afternoon Mr. Raharinosy showed me around his “penthouse”: a modest, sparsely decorated studio apartment whose soaring windows give a great view of Gramercy Park. He’s lean and bounces on the balls of his feet as he walks. He has olive skin, dark hair and a broad, boyish face with searching eyes. He wore a white Fred Perry sweater over a black Fred Perry polo shirt, with black pants and black Pumas. He speaks softly, with a heavy French accent. He has beautiful posture. On the wall hangs a tattered document delineating the roots of the royal family of Madagascar.
“So that’s like the first king of Madagascar,” he said, pointing. “And my dad’s right here. So my dad is nothing, because at the time it had stopped, like, right here. It’s just kind of cool, you know.”
I asked about his pals’ tales of his happy-go-lucky lady-bedding. “I’m attracted to beautiful women and great people in general,” he said. “I’m just curious, and driven and that kind of guides me to great people. I’m not just like running after everything that’s moving.”
We rode the elevator down to a sixth-floor library, a vast space with an overhanging balcony, where Tim Nye, gallery owner and heir to a real estate empire, has allowed Mr. Raharinosy to set up a makeshift Ping-Pong parlor. I picked up a paddle. Despite my having reached the finals of a Ping-Pong tournament at a beastly summer camp when I was 13, Mr. Raharinosy promptly gave me a beating that reminded me of having my head held underwater by the camp bullies. His favorite move is a forehand smash, which involves a dramatic whip of his entire body, hips and all.
His friend Khairi Mdnor, a brand consultant who helped develop a Ping-Pong tournament for Puma, dropped by for a game. “There’s a certain monotony to the game, and the sound,” said Mr. Mdnor, his ponytail bouncing. “There’s also less of a barrier—in other sports, there’s always something: Size, age.”
Naked Ping-Pong began as the solution to a problem: Friends kept dropping by the loft for a game at all hours, so no one could get any work done. After the first Naked Ping-Pong party—June ’07, 15 friends, $20 buy-in—the roomies knew they were onto something. They began pushing the narrative that they were training for the 2012 Olympics. You paid $20 at the door, $10 more if you wanted to play. They added three more tables and began inviting pros such as Wally Green, a Harlem-born player who also raps. Sponsors began to circle; so did the media, which, according to Mr. Mack, might have had something do with the fact that a certain comely publicist was sniffing around Mr. Raharinosy. In 2008, Vitamin Water flew this Ping-Pong posse to Phoenix to be part of 50 Cent’s Super Bowl party. Last April, Susan Sarandon came to one of their parties; she ended up hiring the boys to make a tribute video for boyfriend Tim Robbins’ 50th birthday; she is also an investor in the new club. As is Jean Jacques Cesbron, the president of the classical music talent agency Columbia Artists Music, who commissioned the boys to make a Web series chronicling a tour by Chinese pianist Lang Lang.