Entrepreneurs Bank On Billiards' Growing Popularity

February 16, 1992|By Michael James | Michael James,Staff writer

For $75 a glass, you can sip the finest cognac at Howard County's latest pool hall.

With flashy, red $7,000 Lord Nelson-style pool tables, Dom Perignon available upon request, and a blackjack table for those who tire of eight-ball, Nottingham's is a far cry from the smokybarrooms in the film "The Color of Money."

"It's not a 'Billy and Bob's pool hall.' We're trying to connote an English theme, and certainly there is a little bit of snobbishnessto it," said Nottingham's owner Bruce DeLeon. "I want it to be a place where people can go for an elegant atmosphere."

Nottingham's, which opened Tuesday in the Columbia Corporate Park on Stanford Boulevard, is modeled after jet-set pool halls in Chicago, New York and other cities.

"It's a pretty unbelievable pool hall," said Michael Sherman, a county police liquor inspector who approved Nottingham's liquor license last week. "I'd never seen anything like it. It's the kind of place where I could picture Minnesota Fats shooting a few games."

Pool tables are rented by the hour to a single player for either$6, $8 or $10. Additional players are allowed on a table for an extra $2 per hour. Thus, a party of four who stopped by on a weekend would pay an hourly rate of $16.

As pool halls go, that's an expensivebill, especially if you throw in a few drinks at $3.25 apiece.

"But remember, it's still cheaper than going to a movie these days," DeLeon said.

Nottingham's, named with the Sheriff of Nottingham in mind, also has a small blackjack table where customers can play for amusement only. A $10 bill gets you $2,000 worth of poker chips to playagainst the professional card dealer.

DeLeon, 46, a telecommunications specialist and a Columbia resident for 16 years, came up with the idea for Nottingham's one day while reading Connoisseur magazine.

Big cities across the country have seen a surge in pool playing, from both men and women. The upscale pool hall of the 1990s is geared toward ambience and has come to be a socially accepted place to take a date, according to many fashion magazines DeLeon has on file.

"Billiards is fast replacing bowling as trend-setters' 'sport of choice,' " said a recent issue of Cosmopolitan. "Cleaned-up pool halls are chic spots to bring, or find, a honey."

The demographics of the high-society pool players at the swank halls in New York and Chicago seems to correspond to the Columbia population, DeLeon said. The average age of those pool players is 40, and their income averages about $40,000, both in line with Columbia consumers.

"It's a perfect fit for Columbia. It's like a glove," DeLeon said of Nottingham's, which is billed as "A Distinctive Tavern and Billiard Parlor."

"This is aplace where a businessman can take a client and feel very comfortable."

Both DeLeon and his partner, former local radio personality Alan Berrier, are former restaurateurs and pool enthusiasts. Both have played pool since they were children.

"Pool halls are typically associated with heavy drinkers, but nowadays people really aren't interested in getting drunk," said Berrier, 45, a former disc jockey on the "Louis and the Bear" team on WCAO radio.

"We think the timing isright for this. People are looking for alternatives to the dinner and movie scene," Berrier said.

DeLeon, a licensed billiard instructor, said the ritzy pool hall is not a new concept. In medieval England, pool playing was a favorite pastime not only for kings, but for the queen and her court as well, DeLeon said.

"After dinner, men would drink and smoke their cigars, and the women would play billiards,"De Leon said.

As for the long-term success of the business, DeLeon is confident.

"There are a lot of closet pool players out there who say there aren't any nice places to play," DeLeon said. "But we're different. You just can't get Dom Perignon in most pool halls."

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