Archive for the ‘Pool Hall’ Category

Pool Hall – Central Billiards, Nakano City (Tokyo), Japan

April 23, 2023

Located over a 7-11 and reached by a small, unmarked stairwell, this is an old, small (4 tables) pool room. No food or drink but the manager will bring you a cup of hot tea as a courtesy while you play. Tables are well-kept and the felt is fast. Hard to imagine this being a very crowded place. Probably the kind of neighborhood shop only a few people know about. Nothing flashy, no blaring music. Just the click of ball against ball and the familiar thud of balls dropping into pockets before rolling down to the end of the table return.

It’s cluttered and worn. One commenter indicated there might be renovations in the near future but they don’t appear to have started yet. It reminds me of the old Rack & Cue in Mesa, AZ decades ago when I’d wander in there on a weekday morning to practice instead of going to classes, the old men looking up from their dominos only briefly. I’m sure that on a cold Tokyo day, this is a cozy little place to run drills.

Lost Places

April 15, 2023

In addition to the places I don’t mention intentionally in regards to pool shooting, because I wouldn’t want myself or another shooter misdirected to a place not likely to provide an enjoyable experience other than accidentally, there are also places I *would* recommend but because I get distracted, may get forgotten until I’m not sure where they were. Just like I’m trying to learn to take more photos, I need to learn to mark locations immediately rather than after the fact. Especially in a place like Hanoi where the streets wander in myriad directions.

But it was wandering home one night that I discovered another great little spot to shoot pool. Again, nothing on Google to indicate a pool hall but there was a sign outside on the street and the elevator took me to the third (or was it the fifth?) floor and when I exited, voila. Four tables without a sole in the place other than the staff.

As is often the case, it didn’t take long for the staff to want to challenge me. At least one of them. A nice, young guy with a decent stroke and eye. Not terribly consistent though, and less able than I to situate the cue ball where he wanted it after making his shot. So I beat him. As I sweated in the non air conditioned room at 10pm. The bartender wasn’t coming in on a weeknight, but I was able to convince this guy to let me show him how to make a rum and Coke. He took it very seriously and was quite happy with himself upon completion, and I was quite happy as well because although I offered it to him, he made it clear he couldn’t drink on the job. I was happy to make sure his first creation didn’t go to waste.

I shot for a couple of hours here. Tables were in good condition and the house cues were in good shape. I’d definitely return if only I knew where it was. Somewhere north of P. Quan Thanh street on the southeastern side of Ho Tay (lake).

Holes in the Walls

April 14, 2023

I play pool in a lot of different places. Not all of them merit being mentioned here for posterity because they aren’t good enough. I mean, I don’t mind talking about a place that was a real dump. It happens. It’s worth remembering if only for comparison. But a lot of other places really have nothing to do with pool other than having a table. I may play on it but here I really wanna focus on the places that appear to legitimately be striving, at one level or another, to be known as a place to shoot pool.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t fun times had at some of the unmentionable locales.

For instance I’m in Hanoi in the Quang An area after dinner. I’m walking down a dirt road and I see a place advertising whiskey. That’s worth a peek inside as my usual haunts don’t have much in the whiskey respect. But then I come around a corner and see they also have a pool table!

This place doesn’t show up on Google maps and even if it did based on my criteria above it wouldn’t be worth mentioning. But I had a great time shooting here for several hours with a group of guys. We couldn’t understand each other but we knew how to play pool and were willing to forego the niceties of conversation in order to do so. It wouldn’t be worth going back to this place. The bathroom alone is one of the strongest memories of the evening and not in a good way. Which is saying a lot because I’ve seen some pretty atrocious latrines in a lifetime of shooting pool.

Still, I appreciated the opportunity to spend time not alone, shooting pool, having a drink, and remembering that even when the table isn’t great and the cues aren’t straight I still enjoy a game of pool a lot. So just because I don’t mention a place doesn’t mean it isn’t possible to have a good time there. I just wouldn’t recommend a shooter go looking for it solely on the basis of the quality of the pool table and experience.

Pool Hall – Fantasy Billiards Club, Hanoi, Vietnam

April 13, 2023

This one didn’t show up either on Google but is located in the Old Quarter off P. Nha Chung street near the southwestern end of Hoan Kien lake. About a dozen 8′ tables in very good condition. House cues were straight but in desperate need of new tips. Mostly a place for amateurs as I didn’t see anyone who appeared to be a serious shooter. Mix of locals as well as foreigners. Another nice place to meet with friends but probably not the best place to find action if you’re looking for it.

Pool Hall – Newworld Billiard, Hanoi, Vietnam

April 12, 2023

Google Maps is a huge help in finding places to shoot pool around the world. However it’s not perfect. If nobody reports a place or registers it, Google can’t tell me about it. Sometimes I find things just by walking around. Newworld Billiard is one example. I was actually looking for a different pool hall but it was closed and this happened to be across from it on Pham Dinh Ho street. Serendipitous!

When I stopped in on a Sunday afternoon this place was hopping. Located on the second floor it has good signage to guide you there. Close to a dozen 8-foot tables in good condition and clean felt. Not sure if they serve food and drink but it’s a good enough place that doesn’t matter. Aircon works remarkably good but it can still get warm with a full house. Definitely would recommend this as a great option for gathering with friends. Didn’t see a lot of serious shooters there but I think there was one table towards the front with a group that seemed more focused than the average novice.

Pool Hall – The Last Black Billiards, Colombo, Sri Lanka

February 16, 2023

When I stopped by here about 4:30pm on a weekday the place was empty. While there’s a sign on the building overlooking Brass Founder Street, I had to guess which floor it might be on. I went up to the third floor and through a crack in the only door on that floor could dimly make out the glow of green felt. The young man watching over the place was startled when I came in. Probably because anyone was coming in, let alone a non-Sri Lankan.

This is a simple place. I was grateful the blacklights were not in use (the apparent reason for the name). Three tables, a few cues and the remnants of bits of chalk. The balls are chipped, and you can hear the cracks and divots in the slate under the felt. Some of the rails are dead. The cue tips are hardened so that chalk doesn’t stick. While I hope it’s a great introduction to the sport for the local youth, it’s not someplace a pool player needs to check out. Unless, like me, you just want to say you tried.

I stayed for about 10 minutes. When I went to pay (250 Sri Lankan Rupee for 30 minutes, about $0.65 US) he handed me 150 back and shook his head. It seemed fair, and he’ll have a story to share with the other lads when they start showing up later at night I’m sure.

Pool Hall – Eight Ball Pool & Snooker, Colombo Sri Lanka

February 15, 2023

This place is difficult to find, at least by Western sensibilities. There’s no sign outside (that I could see) and it’s located in a narrow building in a crowded neighborhood just east of the chaotic Pettah market area in Colombo. If (like me) you’re using Google Maps as a guide to find places like this, beware there are two listings with the words Eight Ball in the title, shown on the same street just a block apart. The one further south appears to be the real one. Can’t vouch for the other one. Were it not for a very committed tuk-tuk driver, I wouldn’t have found it.

I climbed to the third floor of the building with nothing but a printed paper pointing upwards that had been torn in half but still taped to a wall for my guide. My tuk-tuk driver followed right behind me, clearly uncertain as to the wisdom of this venture. There was one table available and I was directed to take it. To say this place is rustic would be very accurate and perhaps an overselling of the place. Three somewhat threadbare eight-foot tables in an unairconditioned room. No snacks or drinks or anything. Definitely a very local crowd, and probably skewing towards early high school age for the majority of them.

I started racking the balls and was immediately approached by a great hulk of a man. With sign language and a bare minimum of words that are somewhat universal in the world of pool it was apparent he wanted to play me. I have no illusions that Caucasians were rare in this establishment, and certainly not ones with a laptop bag dropped in the corner. It would be difficult to accurately convey how very different I was from everything and everyone in this room even if I claimed that I was the only one with green skin, six arms and giant, shrimp-like antennae sprouting from my head. I might as well have had those attributes, but they were hardly necessary.

I agreed to shoot, wary a bit of what I was getting into. He didn’t make any indication he wanted to play for money which I was grateful for. Money complicates everything and in some situations such complications aren’t simply unnecessary they’re unwise. So I racked the balls, indicated he could break, and we were off.

I assumed from the immediacy of his challenge that he was probably the house pro, and his shooting confirmed this pretty quickly. A smooth, fluid stroke, good confidence in the use of power, and a good eye for leaving himself with his next shot. He ran out five of his seven balls before missing. Not having shot for a week or more and being nervous about being in a new place, I missed my shot and he sank one more ball before missing. I dropped a couple of balls but missed and left him another shot. He was down to the eight ball but didn’t have a good shot on it. On my turn I ran the rest of my balls, had a long shot on the eight and missed, leaving him with the easy winning shot.

We racked again and this time the situation was reversed. I made some good plays early on and beat him while he still had two balls on the table. We agreed to play one more. By this time the mental aspect of the game had kicked in. I had overcome my jitters while my victory in the second game clearly had rattled his. In the third game I was shooting on the eight ball while he still had three balls on the table. I wasn’t making those three balls easy on him and they were still standing when I dropped the eight ball.

I thanked him and he asked where I was from. He agreed to a photo which in part due to my remaining nervousness is a bit blurry. But a good reminder nonetheless about how a shared love of something as simple as the game of pool can build bridges where language and culture and economics fail.


February 14, 2023

I consider myself to be more or less an egalitarian. Chalk that up to being an American, which in turn at least started out based in some pretty Biblical understandings of what it means to be a human being, even if we’ve never fully realized our own best ideals. I believe in the equality of all people not based on what they do or have but rather on the reality of their being creations of the one, true God.

This understanding of reality extends beyond human relations. I don’t like snobbery. But I have to admit I’ve become a bit of a snob.

I’d like that’s not related primarily to being an American with an American salary living in a part of the world where the costs of living are monumentally less, though of course this is a nearly impossible reality to avoid. I am privileged, not in the woke sense but in the very real dollars and cents sense. I don’t have to imagine my privilege it stares me in the face down every street I ride or walk.

Despite this acknowledgement, my egalitarian views long ago extended into my hobby of billiards/pool/American pocket billiards. I own my own cue, of course. One on each side of the world, currently. But I’ve always tried to employ the attitude that if my opponent isn’t using their own cue, neither will I. If they’re playing with a house cue I want to try and beat them with a house cue rather than wondering if my victory had to do with the better quality of the tools in use. I don’t make a big deal of this, it’s just what I try to do. If someone else can play on a crappy table, by golly so can I. It also has to do with wanting to be able to walk into any pool hall or pool bar or pool whatever, pick up a cue, and blend. Be grateful for the opportunity to play and don’t quibble about the quality of the materials.

Maybe it’s more a mix of machismo and egalitarianism? Hmmm.

It all sounds very nice on paper but I’m forced to admit I am no longer egalitarian in this sense. I have become a pool snob.

I’m not proud of this, but I can’t deny it. I can’t pretend all tables, felts, rails, cues, tips, and chalk are created equal because they aren’t. I can’t pretend equipment maintenance and quality doesn’t matter because it does. I don’t profess to be a great player by any stretch of the imagination, so struggling additionally because of the tools and materials I’m playing with is frustrating.

This has come to the forefront as I’ve played pool in a continually growing list of countries and cities in Southeast Asia. I’ve run into some very nice places that could compete in quality with anything I’ve come across in the US, even at the level of competition. But I routinely encounter far more rustic conditions. And I’m coming to grips with the reality that I certainly don’t have to play in these conditions, but the rather more troubling reality that I don’t want to.

Which means if I show up to a place and find out it’s really in bad condition, I’ll play a rack or two for the privilege of saying I’ve played there and adding it to my prideful list of places I’ve shot pool, but I don’t need to stay longer than that. And that’s OK. Especially if it’s just me and there’s nobody to strike up a game with. No harm done in playing for 15 minutes or so and calling it good enough. Because under many conditions, that really is good enough.

What this means though, is also OK with being more discriminating in where I’ll even bother to go. I mean, for safety reasons if nothing else, I’m not going to go to a random place with no reviews and not even an interior photo. Anybody can claim anything on the Internet, and I’d rather not show up at an axe murderer’s house who finds their victims by advertising online that they’re a pool hall.

I’ve come close to that a few times though (at least it felt that way – I’m sure it wasn’t really that perilous!). I’d like to think I’m learning, and this learning isn’t just base snobbishness but something far more appealing and honorable sounding like common sense.

I’m trying to convince myself of this, but I haven’t yet.

In the meantime, I’m being more selective of the places I bother to try out. And I’m giving greater thanks when I come across places that were worth the trip.

Pool Hall – Don Lounge, Hanoi Vietnam

January 13, 2023

Located just outside the eastern edge of Old Town Hanoi, this pool hall is located on the third floor of a shopping center. Even arriving later in the evening after the other shops had closed, security directed me to an elevator. There’s a club next to the pool hall and you can feel and hear the reverberations of the music until you enter the pool hall. The name of the club is what pops up in a Google search, not the pool hall. The only way I knew about this place was my young opponent at Monaco Billiard Game Club told me about it when I asked him about other places to play.

This is a nice place. Posh, I think is not an inappropriate word here. They don’t serve hard alcohol but they do serve a variety of fruit drinks that are actually works of art as well as delicious. The tables are in good condition as are the balls and cues. The place was almost entirely full when I arrived and snagged one of the few remaining open tables. They have a plethora of table attendants to rack the balls at the end of each game.

There’s a peculiar diversity on this side of the world about how to rack the balls – or more accurately, the position of the rack on the table. Standard competition rules in the West have the head ball even with the second marker strand on the table. However here they are fond of racking the center ball on that second marker line. This makes breaking a lot less challenging. However, when I politely correct them, they’re happy to adjust to my way of doing things. I’ve yet to determine if this is a real difference between Eastern and Western pool-playing styles, but I don’t think it is. I think it’s just improper training of the employees.

I would definitely go back here to play. It’s pleasant, there’s a better selection of refreshments, and the staff is attentive. While I’d still prefer to sip on a Jack and Coke while I play, it’s not a necessity. I do plan to keep looking for such a place in the future, though!

Pool Hall – Factory 47, Hanoi Vietnam

January 12, 2023

This is not pool hall. It’s a bar/club with a pool table on the second floor. I knew that before I went, but I wanted to enjoy a drink over a pool table and the last spot couldn’t provide that (though it provided far better pool equipment!).

Pool tables are one option in Southeast Asian bars to help them stand out with tourists. They provide a way of keeping customers busy so they stay longer and purchase more drinks. Arguably no different than anywhere else in the world in this respect. Factory 47 sits at the northern edge of Old Town and the primary tourist hub of Hanoi. It’s steps away from famed Ta Hien street, noted for it’s bars and revelry.

As such, don’t be under any illusions about Factory 47. The table, cues and balls are all in about the condition you’d expect in a club/bar catering to tourists and not to pool players. It was dead the night I visited (also part of the plan), but the techno/electronica music was still at a deafening tempo.

I won’t go back, but it was good to have a drink over a pool table, even if I was the only one playing!