A DJ in a multicoloured lycra catsuit and sequin bomber jacket is bouncing around an east London basement to dancefloor classic D.I.S.C.O as beer-drinking young people wave their arms and chant along.
Yet the giant letters being waved aloft by the cheering crowd spell out a different story – it’s B.I.N.G.O, but not as most people have experienced it before.
Dabbers, which this week opened just a short stretch from the hipster bars and clubs of the capital’s trendy Shoreditch, is hoping to lead one of the more unlikely reinventions of a British pastime.
Instead of chicken and chips with a cola or beer, Dabbers offers salted edamame, seared tiger prawn skewers or pumpkin and spinach falafels with caesar salad alongside its bingo cards. Players can make new friends as they sit together at long tables in nightclub-like black walled basement lit by cool neon, and the drinks menu includes craft beers and classic cocktails.
With cheesy hits from Chesney Hawkes’ The One and Only to the Beatles’ When I’m 64 used to call out some of the numbers which are pumped out by a contraption which looks like a combination between the Tardis and Kerplunk, it’s a long way from swirly carpets and “two fat ladies – 88”.
Traditional bingo halls are closing fast, with at least 40 disappearing in the last five years, according to market research firm Mintel, but new ventures are hoping to revive the numbers game by appealing to young people.
Dabbers, which is chaired and partly financed by Picturehouse cinemas founder Lyn Goleby, is already considering additional sites in London and Manchester for the next few years while Social Entertainment Ventures, the owner of the Puttshack crazy golf centre is set to open Hijingo, a high-tech modern bingo operation in London next summer. The Slug & Lettuce owner, Stonegate, has brought “bingo rave” Bingo Loco – which combines confetti canons with the numbers game – to the UK, while Gala has rebranded100 of its clubs to Buzz, partly in a bid to attract a younger audience.
They are all trying to cash in on the trend for activities alongside alcohol that has already driven the rise of indoor crazy golf, darts, ping pong, shuffleboard, escape rooms and even axe throwing venues.
In the past few years, at least 15 new style crazy golf venues have launched including the Mr Mulligans chain backed by the Guinness family, Ghetto Golf in Liverpool and Birmingham and Junkyard Golf which is about to open its fifth venue. Swingers has two sites in London, while Puttshack which has one site in London and plans three more for next year, at least two of which are in former House of Fraser stores.
The trend is being fuelled by shopping centres and property developers who are desperate for new ideas that can pull in young people or families and fill spaces where hard pressed retailers are moving out.
Adam Breeden, co-founder of Social Entertainment Ventures which owns ping pong bar Bounce as well as Puttshack and who also co-founded the Flight Club darts venue, says: “There is a huge increase in activity based social entertainment experiences are not all competitive it is all about having a fun social experience.”
“It is going to create a new market with more and more people doing more of these types of things.”
Breeden, who plans to open one or two Hijingo outlets next year and up to four the following year, believes bingo could be bigger than most of these new activity venues given the existing popularity of pop-up events in pubs and clubs such as bingo with brunch or musical bingo.
“Those pop-ups are one of the very best nights out you’ll have,” says Breeden who notes that there are few attendees over 30 at these hectic, often boozy events.
“The opportunity is so vast in bingo we are going to see this grow extremely quickly,” he says.
Dabbers founder Ed Wethered spent two and a half years raising funds for his venture after the runaway success of a string of Monday night charity bingo sessions he organised.
“It was unbelievably popular. The offering wasn’t even that good, it was just cans of beer and burgers and all we had was cards and pens,” he remembers. “I thought why not create a venue specifically to enjoy the game?
“We’re putting on more of a show around the game with artists, acts and comedians to have an entertaining environment while calling the numbers.
“It’s a full night of entertainment for what you’d pay for 45 minutes in a [modern crazy golf centre]. In those places it’s up to you to make your own fun what we’re doing is saying ‘come and we are going to make it amazing.’”
“We’re offering a part of history but with a modern spin.”