A ball pit in a bar? Grosser than you'd expect

I have great memories of playing in the ball pit at my local McDonald’s when I was child. I remember diving into the multi-colored plastic balls as if they were part of a vast ocean. I laughed as I waded my way from one end of the ball pit to the other.

During my youth, I certainly didn’t have a care about what food and other mysterious items could have found their way into my glorious ball pit. As a child born in the ‘80s, seemingly my parents didn’t have a care about it either. I doubt the balls were hypo-allergenic.

Over time ball pits disappeared from McDonald’s locations because of that very concern. The rainbow sea of fun fell victim to its own unbridled mystery. If you don’t know what lies beneath, do you really want your kids wading around in it?

It appears, however, that ball pits are making a comeback. They’re not part of the redesign plan of new McDonald’s restaurants, however. They are coming to a bar near you.

A San Francisco-area bar decided to make a plastic splash by turning part of its establishment into a ball pit. In this particular pool, eating and drinking are allowed, with a special focus on alcoholic beverages. This naturally piqued my interest given my fondness for ball pits as a kid.

What lies beneath?

At first, I thought it was a great idea. A fun and unique way to brand your bar while feeding into guests’ nostalgia for their youth. Not to mention the hilarity of watching patrons trying to walk to and from the bar as though they were wading through plastic quick sand. All while trying to not spill their drinks.

Then it hit me that the fun of the play area and the benefits of the promotion could not be outweighed by the disgusting level of filth that would accompany such an experiment. Think of the spilled drinks, the dropped food, and the pieces of trash that would invariably find their way into the plastic pool. That doesn’t include the drunken mischief that would naturally occur before last call.

Sleeping in a ball pit

“Just drop the condom into the ball pit,” I can hear one twenty-something banker saying to his friend. “It will be hilarious when someone finds it.” That’s just one of a plethora of gross possibilities that could happen. How about all of the people who decide that it would be fun to make it out in the ball pit?

And let’s not forget how disease-ridden ball pits can be. Dr. Erin Carr-Jordan, a professor at Arizona State University, did a test to find out what lived on those plastic spheres of fun at McDonald PlayPits.

We found stuff that causes meningitis, food-borne illness, skin, hair, eye infections... fecal contamination, coliforms, quite a few things can make children ill, and several of which are multi-drug resistant and potentially fatal.
— Dr. Erin Carr-Jordan, Arizona State University professor

Coliform bacteria typically call feces home, so you can imagine how fun those are. Meanwhile Staphylococcus aureus, another bacteria commonly found in ball pits, can cause respiratory infections and food poisoning.

Ball pit shark meme

Sure, children are sometimes walking Petri dishes, but adults are just as capable of carrying viruses and bacteria. And those little guys just love to throw a party in ball pits, apparently.

Instead of visiting the ball pit, I would much rather have been there when the bar staff was cleaning it up.

That way I could have captured the full range of weird and gross items that made their way into the pit.