When is a pool hall not a pool hall?
When it's a billiard parlor.
Have a look around Nottingham's, the swank new billiard parlor in Columbia, and you'll realize the difference is no mere semantic distinction.
If your sense of this sport is still mired in squalid macho movie images out of "The Hustler," Nottingham's is a bracing reminder of just how upscale pool has become. Not only does the parlor's name evoke an English gentleman's club, but its fin-de-siecle decor and well-mannered showcasing of the sport have also been drawing quite a few gentle ladies, too. So the pool shark who beats you might well be a sharkette.
The 14 ornately carved billiard tables are themselves enough to make you think of pool as an art form. Likewise, the mahogany and brass bar anchoring this combination tavern and billiard parlor is itself a work of art. The lion's head motif that recurs around the room as an architectural ornament adds a royal touch, and the Belle Epoque-evocative artwork hanging here and there adds a splash of genteel Victorian decadence. Only a glance overhead to the exposed systems ceiling is a blunt reminder that we're in the 1990s, not the 1890s.
The first in a projected chain of Nottingham's billiard parlors, the Columbia location was selected because of the matchup of today's pool clientele with Columbia's boomer demographics, according to Nottingham's day manager Mark Steckbeck.
Folks who play here can afford the finer things in life. Table fees range from $6 to $10 per hour depending on the day and time -- steep rates by pool hall standards -- but a planned shift to a flat rate should at least simplify the math a bit. Enjoyment of the finer things also extends here to a light fare menu of baked brie, sandwiches and gourmet pizza.
Although the exact location of this place -- nestled in a Columbia office park off I-95 -- makes it easy to reach for non-Columbians, first-time visitors are apt to get lost unless they keep an eye out for a water tower near Route 175 that serves as a landmark of sorts. Anybody who has ever tried to find anything after dark in signage-shy, street lamp-rare Columbia knows how tough an assignment it can be, so you'll be really happy when you finally spot the billiard green Nottingham's sign amid the nocturnal desolation of a business park.
Where: 8850 Stanford Blvd., Columbia Corporate Park.
Hours: 11 a.m. to midnight Sundays to Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays.
Menu: sandwiches, pizza, appetizers.
Credit cards: AE, DC, MC, V.
Call: (410) 290-0077.