Archive for the ‘Pool Hall’ Category

Pool Hall – Hard Times ~ Sacramento, CA

September 16, 2021

There used to be another Hard Times located in Los Angeles. Unfortunately, they went out of business a few years ago. I thought there used to be one in San Francisco as well, but I might be mistaken about that. Which leaves Sacramento as the last surviving Hard Times. I show up here after a singularly disappointing experience at another pool hall in town a few minutes earlier. Certainly this has to be better, right?

You bet it does – and is!

It’s located on the northeast side of town at the intersection of Auburn Avenue and Garfield. In a strip mall that has seen better days. But I’m not here for exterior aesthetics. What matters with pool halls – as with many things in life – is what’s on the inside.

This is a true pool hall. Thirty-one high quality tables maintained in fantastic condition. Even though it was early afternoon there were at least six tables in use. Rates are good. They keep their house keys behind the counter and determine which one might work for you based on whether you prefer a light or heavy cue. The tips all appear to be in great condition. Balls are clean. Staff is courteous and professional. In addition to the general play area there’s a separate tournament room where several other people were playing.

This place is serious. Serious about pool, to be sure, but also serious about staying in business. Signs clearly indicate masks have to be worn anytime you leave the area immediately around your table. While I was there a woman was going around disinfecting and cleaning all the tables not in use. This means not just wiping down the hard surface but the cloth itself. All the employees were masked. They were also prompt and friendly. Not over-the-top, but respectful and quick about their business. They want you playing pool and they know you are there to shoot pool.

This place is owned by professional pool player Oscar Dominguez and that professionalism carries over into the entire place and atmosphere. Although there are dartboards and food available, pool is clearly the focus. No music stages (and unfortunately no full bar – just beer and wine). But it’s clear they aim to run a safe, friendly place for people of all skill levels who enjoy playing pool. This would definitely be my preferred place to shoot if I lived in the area though there are several other options I hope to briefly check out on my way back out of town on Monday.

Pool Hall – Corner Pocket Sports Bar ~ Sacramento, CA

September 16, 2021

I’m on a business trip to central north-central California. Marrying former parishioners. Visiting a congregation in Sonora. I’m grateful for the inexpensiveness of the flight from Phoenix to Sacramento (about $100 round trip!), but the timing of the rehearsal and wedding as well as the Sunday morning church visit mean that I have a fair amount of spare time. Flying in Thursday and back home Monday. Which means, of course, there’s time to hunt for pool halls.

I don’t like to write poor reviews of places. Being critical is easy (at least for me. Hmmm.). I’d much prefer to encourage and support small businesses who no doubt are struggling to survive than criticize a place for not being what I hoped it would be.

Case in point, Corner Pocket Sports Bar in northeast Sacramento near the intersection of Sunrise Boulevard and Antelope Road with an outside marquee encouraging people to support their local bar. Hear, hear! So even though it’s early (just after 11am) and they’ve only just opened, it works into my schedule to stop here on my way out of town towards more isolated (and beautiful!) environs.

It’s a big place. Taking up a somewhat wide ‘L’ shape at the end of a strip mall. As you enter the bar is on the right and an area with tables and a stage for musicians is on the left. Follow the bar around to your right. Go ahead – the bar keeps on going. This leads you to the pool tables. Quite a few of them as well. This is definitely intended to be a place to shoot pool, as opposed to a bar with just a single table idling away in a corner. Promising!

I go to the bar and wait for someone to come and ask me for a drink order or offer me a set of balls. Crickets. They’re laying down the rubber matting inside and around the bar after apparently having it and the floors cleaned the night before. The owner or some other sort of person with an air of authority oversees that personally. There’s a woman at the end of a bar wearing a tee-shirt for the bar – I assume she’s the bartender having a bite to eat before starting her shift in earnest. An older gentleman sits a few barstools away from her with a beer. He walked in just a few minutes before I did.

I wander around. Go back to the bar. Take a picture of the pool tables. Use the restroom. Nobody acknowledges I’m there, let alone asks me what I want. The tables are non-descript and the felt is stained and in pretty poor condition. There doesn’t seem to be much point in trying to play a few games in a place where they can’t be bothered to offer a drink or a set of pool balls or even recognize that I’m there. A few more minutes and I leave.

Support your local small businesses – even the bars. They need your support for sure. But to the folks running those places, it’s really bad business practice to ignore when someone walks into your place. I won’t be back here. Part of that is that I’m just passing through but a greater part of it is I dislike poor service since there’s generally no excuse for it. And considering this isn’t the only pool hall in town, that makes good service even more important!

Pool Hall – Kolby’s Corner Pocket ~ Tempe, AZ

September 15, 2021

I was still in the first half of my educational venture at Arizona State University when Kolby’s opened. Having become addicted to the pool tables in the Memorial Union on campus, I was excited about another option for playing pool, even as my interest in classes continued to wane.

There were other places to shoot pool back then. Rack & Cue was still in operation on Apache near McClintock, Cue & Brew had relocated to the location it still maintains on Southern & Broadway. But Kolby’s was by far the nicest and newest place to shoot. As it should, this lured the best players, and my early impressions of Kolby’s were that I was way out of my league. Rather than be embarrassed by my lower playing level, I just opted to avoid Kolby’s and shoot in less competitive places where people weren’t watching and comparing so much.

That avoidance has lasted the better part of 30 years, and I can count on probably two hands the number of times I’ve returned to shoot there. The location has never changed – a strip mall on the south side of University Drive just east of Dorsey Lane. It’s still one of the nicer places to shoot pool, although (as with us all) it’s showing it’s age. The tables are still good (Diamonds) and the felt is still kept in good shape. It remains a shooter’s pool hall with ongoing tournaments as well as league play. It offers beer and wine as well as a kitchen that can do a bit more than the typical fried bar food.

They have ten nine-foot tournament tables including Diamond and Brunswick brands. They have five seven-foot Diamond bar-box tables, and also one Joy Chinese Eight Ball table. Everything is kept in good condition. Staff is friendly enough and prices are reasonable.

When I stopped in the other evening I played for about an hour. I’ve enjoyed the practice I’ve gotten on nine-foot tables since relocating and joining a league that plays on the tournament-size tables. As such, I played fairly well. I noticed one guy wearing the jersey from the recent World Tournament in Las Vegas, and the play level of the people on the next table was definitely higher than mine. Still, I garnered at least two compliments for high-level bank shots I made in the process of just hitting the balls around.

I don’t feel out of my league here any more, though it still isn’t likely to become my preferred place to play since they only have beer and wine, neither of which I enjoy. It’s nice to know that in the last 30 years or so not only have I been able to further my education, but I’ve become a much better pool player!

Pool Hall – BCA World Pool Tournament ~ Las Vegas, NV

September 8, 2021

Since we’re planning to head overseas in the near future, it may not be possible for me to play in the BCA Pool League World Championships. I’ve been blessed to shoot in this tournament most of the last six years or so. Playing for a local BCA bar pool league qualified me, and I’ve enjoyed shooting both as part of a team as well as individually. Over the years I’ve competed in both 8-ball and 9-ball team events as well as individual 8-ball events. I decided early on that if we weren’t deployed yet, I would attend this event for perhaps the last time.

This year I didn’t have a team to play with. The one I’ve played with for the past decade has largely dissolved. One of the three core members moved to Las Vegas in early 2019. Then I moved this year. Our remaining core teammate has assembled another team to continue playing in the local league but there wasn’t enough interest in coming to Vegas to compete. So the two of us decided to head to Vegas separately and meet up with our buddy there.

All three of us competed in the individual 8-ball event. Dave and I played in the silver division – so named because of the skill level not because of our hair. Our buddy James played in the Bronze division – which he placed third in last year, completing his play just hours before Las Vegas was shut down by Covid.

We met up Friday night to watch a little of the professional player matches. The one we watched featured a young guy who is really an up-and-comer in the competitive pocket billiards world. Chris Robinson came out of Ventura, California, where I had the opportunity to play against him several years ago when he was still a minor and on the cusp of becoming old enough to start competing seriously. We shot at the only pool hall in Ventura – Stixx. At the time a former teammate of ours was giving Chris some tips on shooting. I seem to remember beating Chris, but most likely he wasn’t trying very hard and I got lucky! Now he’s in the spotlight playing with the big names in billiards.

Chris Robinson competing in Las Vegas, NV.

Saturday was a light day of play for me – just a couple of matches through the day. To my surprise, I won both matches, though they were nail-biter, come-from-behind-and-win-by-the-skin-of-my-teeth victories. That kept me in the winner’s bracket of the double-elimination tournament. My buddy Dave was bumped to the loser bracket and was out of the tournament by the end of Saturday. James stayed in the winners’ bracket in his division through Saturday as well, though he had to play several more matches than I did.

The main tournament room at the Rio, Las Vegas. 110 tables plus close to 30 vendors.

Sunday started bright and early. Matches start as early as 9 am, which is really an extremely unpleasant hour for most pool players. I’ve argued for years the matches should start much later – noon at the earliest – and then play into the early morning hours if necessary. That would be a lot more natural and comfortable for the vast majority of the players! However nobody listens and we continue to start early. Of course, the 9am start is really not the beginning. I was up at 6am to get showered and start waking up. Then it was a drive to get a bite to eat and some hot tea on my way to the Rio, the casino just off the strip where the tournament has been held at least as long as I’ve been going. Arrive by 8am, finish breakfast and tea in the car before masking up and heading in to start warming up.

This is a huge event. Thousands of competitors from around the country and North America show up for it every year. The main tournament has 110 bar-sized (7’x3.5′) Diamond tables with Simonis felt. Around the perimeter of this room the vendors set up shop, selling all sorts of billiard related merchandise from cues to apparel and everything in between. Deals are usually good and over the years I’ve picked up a case as well as a variety of tools to keep my cue tips in good condition and shape.

Additionally there is another room for tournament play with another 70 or more tables in it. And another room with about the same number of tables set up for side tournaments. This is one of the big attractions of the event – mini-tournaments. For $10 or $20 or more you can enter a small tournament pretty much from 9am to midnight. You play against 3-4 other people and if you win you win money. Quick and easy and more than a few folks show up just to play in the minis rather than the main event!

I lost this early morning match and was bumped to the losers’ bracket. In some ways, this was a relief. I don’t consider myself to be as good a player as I ought to be and playing in the losers’ bracket took some pressure off. That’s good, because I proceeded to shoot pretty much non-stop until about 10pm that evening. Win after win after win. My first one was commanding and pretty. Most of the others weren’t as pretty or commanding, but a win’s a win.

My last match started about 9pm. By this point, I knew that I was in the money. That meant that even if I lost this match and was out of the tournament, I would still get some money from the tournament. And this was the first player I’d encountered who was close to being a buzzsaw – a term for a player who’s just orders of magnitude better than you are, and therefore cuts through you pretty easily. I made several stupid mistakes and handed him the win in three of the games. I managed to win one game, and he finished up the final two.

I was out. I was also exhausted. But I had made back my entry fee money for the event, which was a lot better than I expected to do. I also am now able to claim I’ve won money in tournament competition in Las Vegas in both teams as well as individual events. Out of the 350+ competitors in my division, I placed 33. That’s not a bad feeling!

Pool Hall ~ Mr. Lucky’s – Lake Havasu City

August 23, 2021

There is one pool hall in northwestern Arizona – Mr. Lucky’s in Lake Havasu City. It’s located in a non-descript strip mall right off highway 95 as you enter town from the south. Twelve to fifteen tables, including one Diamond bar-box that claims to have Simonis felt. The tables are basic and the felt on most of them is rather slow. This is a river/lake town, and the vibe on a late Saturday afternoon is decidedly laid back. Most of the 20 or so folks in the place looked like they had spent the morning on the river and retreated to this air conditioned lair once the temperatures got to be too much. A full bar and I’m not sure if they serve food or not, but it’s likely to be basic bar food if they do.

I shot here with a buddy and colleague from California for about an hour. Good range of people in the place. It’s a little hard to spot from the road unless you know what you’re looking for.

Not a place for serious shooters – other than it’s really the only pool hall this side of Vegas. The place seems safe and decently clean, and likely a good place to pass an afternoon or evening with friends and a few drinks around a pool table. Not much more you can ask for, really. I was able to get a shirt here, but tragically they only had sizes suitable for my wife. C’est la vie!

Pool Hall – Break & Run Billiards ~ Racine, WI

July 28, 2021

It was a beautiful afternoon and evening. We had some time to kill and decided to go for a nice drive. And of course, while wandering down the Wisconsin coast of Lake Michigan it’s good to have a goal in mind. And with me, goals often coincide with pocket billiards when no other weightier or more enjoyable options present themselves.

There were two pool halls to the south of us about 30 minutes I wanted to check out. The first was Outbreak Billiards in Racine. Had I been alone, I probably would have gone in and checked it out. No website, but their photos on Google maps indicate a place with some semblance of family friendliness. Besides, it was still light outside – hardly anybody gets killed in pool halls until after dark, right? But, she felt a little uncomfortable going in and I felt a little uncomfortable leaving her out in the car to go in and shoot a couple of games just to say I’ve played there.

So we moved on, and wound up at Break & Run Billiards on the south side of Racine. Located in a shabby strip mall off of 21st Street and Lathrop Avenue it’s not much to look at from the outside. On the inside, however, I was pleasantly surprised. A few Diamond tables with the felt in good condition. Both 9-foot tables as well as a few bar boxes. The bartender was congenial and helped round up a t-shirt for me, though unfortunately it was only big enough for my wife.

As a side note, my wife now has a budding collection of pool hall t-shirts from places that don’t have my size. I don’t really feel like I’m buying her gifts when she ends up with them, because I really wanted them for myself. But she doesn’t seem to mind wearing them around the house and as long as she doesn’t throw them out I suppose it’s fine. Frustrating, but fine.

I shot for about an hour. Very quiet before the after-dark crowd showed up, but a nice spot to shoot. Definitely worth stopping by if you’re in the area. It looks like the kind of place where shooters are likely to hang out, especially given the dearth of other options in the area as a whole.

Pool Hall – Cue Club of Wisconsin

July 27, 2021

With a name like the Cue Club of Wisconsin, I have big expectations.

Not named after a person. Or even a city. This place claims to be the place to shoot pool for an entire state. That’s a lot to shoulder for a pool hall. I had to check it out.

Their web site heavily features their food, which is pretty decent by bar standards. I had to try their Friday fish lunch and it was definitely acceptable as far as fried fish goes. Their website next highlights their indoor bocce ball courts, and true enough, there are two long strips of artificial turf down the center of the main room where they apparently play bocce ball. There are only a few pictures of the actual pool tables. You know. Because it’s the Cue Club of Wisconsin, after all. They do have a few tables.

The place is a little tricky to find initially as it’s behind a couple of other strip malls off of Grandview Boulevard just south of I-94. If you keep an eye out for the sign and follow the small road back you’ll find it though.

Olhausens, primarily. A few nice 9-foot Diamonds. There aren’t many pictures of the tables on the web site and some of them seem to be outdated, from before the installation of the bocce courts.

But don’t misunderstand. There are also dartboards. A shuffleboard. Cornhole accoutrements. There is far more to this place than billiards. I’ll leave it to you to decide if that’s a good thing or not.

I was able to stop in twice – once on a Friday afternoon when there wasn’t much of anyone there except the lunch rush, which was fair. I tried to get a game going with one guy but he was on his way out. C’est la vie. I stopped again Sunday night and there were even fewer people there. In fact, they closed early, and in consideration of this, gifted me with a free drink coupon for the next time I stop by. Not sure when that will be – probably a couple of years from now at the least. But the thought was nice. I was also able to purchase a t-shirt that’s very nice looking.

This is definitely a worthwhile place to shoot. I’m not sure what it’s like when they have darts and cornhole and bocce ball all going at the same time. I assume they have pool leagues as well. But it’s definitely the only real pool hall in the area and worth checking out if you have the time.

Pool Hall – The Rack Lounge, Scottsdale, AZ

July 14, 2021

This is not a pool hall. It’s not even a pool bar, despite the fact it has over a half-dozen seven and eight foot pool tables and a well-stocked bar. It’s a pool club, really. Like a dance club, but instead of a dance floor there are pool tables. It’s a club for people who either don’t want to dance, are preparing to go dancing, have just come back from dancing, or otherwise want to see and be seen.

It took me a couple of passes to figure out where to enter. It’s located on the west side of Scottsdale Road just south East 2nd Street and Old Town Scottsdale. If you turn in to the north of the building itself there’s a parking lot.

That being said, this is probably if not definitely the closest thing Scottsdale has to a pool hall. But it’s a lot different than your typical pool hall! There was another place called Stardust 30-some years ago located just a short ways south of here but that’s been closed and gone for a long time. Tables are all right. The felt on mine was decent but well-worn. Spacing between tables is good overall but at times you need to wait for the person on the other table to finish their shot. Drinks were good – the bartender knows how to do more than squirt Coca Cola into a glass with rum. I had a La Paloma and the bartender did a very admirable job with it.

The place is very noisy with the thumping music you’d associate with a club. The clientele is somewhat varied but at least when I arrived was heavy on the overly-made up, skin tight outfits for women and the well-muscled, good-looking club boys. The vibe overall seemed customized for people looking to meet up, and pool was secondary. The double-entendre of a place called The Rack is not lost here. Like a club drinks are pricey but you have a better selection than you do in many bars.

I won’t go back to this place. I knew that’s how I would feel about it and I wasn’t wrong. Located in the trendy Old Town Scottsdale area, right off Scottsdale Road, I can’t imagine how much they’re paying in rent! They’ve been around since at least 2017 though, which is impressive for that area of town.

Pool Hall – Big Willies, Salt Lake City, UT

July 12, 2021

After the disappointment of my stop in Clearfield, I decided to make the drive down to Salt Lake City. It’s all freeway and only about a half an hour away. I was grateful I did. The first place I tried to go, a place close to downtown called The Spot was inexplicably closed until the following evening. However just a few blocks away is one of the only legitimate pool halls in Salt Lake City (as far as I can tell) – Big Willies, located at the intersection of 1700 S and Main Street.

This place has the distinction of having at least six Diamond bar-boxes (coin-op or by the hour) as well as a snooker table. It’s a full bar and restaurant with real food. I distinguish actual food from the typical microwave or toaster oven/deep fryer faire many pool bars are limited to. The pool tables are located in one room, while the restaurant and bar are in another. This is very convenient as they were having some sort of amateur comedy night in the restaurant that I didn’t have to listen to, and I’m sure it makes karaoke much less painful than many other bars with pool tables!

Tables were in good shape, there were plenty of straight house cues with decent tips. The place was clean and orderly (a sign as you entered strictly forbids drugs and fighting, which is a nice touch I suppose!). The waitress was attentive without being annoying and there a variety of TV screens to watch games, etc. I highly recommend this place if you’re in the SLC area and looking to shoot some pool. It was pretty quiet on a Monday night.

Pool Hall – Crown Billiards, Clearfield, UT

July 12, 2021

The only pool hall proper in the greater Ogden area, this is definitely a place you can skip. It’s located in the back end of abuilding at the intersection of State Street and South 1000 East. Pictures would not do it justice, in that they couldn’t adequately convey the disarray and general disheveled nature of this place. I think I saw someone with a glass of draft beer but I’d be hard pressed to tell you where they obtained it. There was nothing identifiable as a bar in the traditional sense of taps, wells, etc.

There are two rooms, and perhaps the difference is one room is smaller coin-op bar boxes and the other room (the one you’re likely to enter into) has bigger tables for rent by the hour. It’s clearly a family place as there were couples with small children or infants hanging around.

I’ve played in a lot of pool bars and I pride myself on trying to be fairly conciliatory about reviewing them. This one appears safe, and the tables are in better condition than in other more traditional bars. House cues appeared to be straight and tipped which is not always the case! But in terms of ambiance, this place lacks a lot. More like playing in someone’s garage (albeit with air conditioning). If you go there with that expectation you’ll probably do just fine.