Pool emerges from behind the 8-ball

March 14, 1996|By Lisa Wiseman | Lisa Wiseman,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

There was a time when almost all pool halls were the same -- seedy, smoky places filled with local riff-raff and juvenile delinquents who were up to no good. No "respectable" person would be found in a billiard parlor. You wouldn't take a date to the local pool hall, and certainly not your children.

Ladies and gentlemen would not shoot pool. Only men with colorful nicknames who smoked fat, smelly cigars would shoot pool.

Check out the pool halls of the '90s, and you'll see that times have changed. The seedy parlor is disappearing, and in its place, a new type of pool hall has arrived -- an upscale club where you can not only rack 'em up, but you can also have a meal, a couple of drinks, listen to music and socialize. There are even pool leagues, like bowling leagues, that meet regularly for friendly competition (matching shirts not required).

Pool is fairly inexpensive. Two hours at a pool hall will probably cost you less than a night at the movies. Prices range from $2 to $8 to rent a table for an hour. Most places use a computerized system that keeps track of your time at the table. So if you only play for an hour and 34 minutes, you won't be charged for two hours.

Unlike many leisure activities, with pool, there's no fancy equipment to buy, and you don't need special shoes or clothing. Just about anyone can shoot pool -- you may not be able to run the table, but even lousy pool players can sink a ball with a lucky shot.

At the Top Hat Cue Club on Satyr Hill Road in Parkville, Tommy Dellis of Kingsville brought his two sons, 11-year-old James and 7-year-old Christopher, in for a night of family entertainment.

"I love the glamour, the lights, everything about this," Mr. Dellis says, pointing out the Top Hat's decor, which includes two large aquariums and a whimsical fireplace in the shape of a top hat.

You can't miss this place from the outside. Just look for the huge red, neon top hat.

"This is different from the places they had when I grew up," Mr. Dellis says. But does he think children belong in a pool hall?

"I think it's a very good outing. It's a clean environment. There's no drugs, no gambling. . . . And for kids, by shooting pool, it's good for hand-eye coordination," he says. Just then, young Christopher chalks up a pool cue taller than he is and takes a whack at the 4-ball.

"Easy, easy, not so hard," Mr. Dellis says to his son. "OK, that's better." While Mr. Dellis gives instructions to Christopher, 32-year-old Rusty McEvoy shows his date, 29-year-old Tara Stevenson, around the tables. He shoots pool fairly often. She's never been. After just one game, Ms. Stevenson says, "I really like this."

"Pool is a two-person, couple sort of thing to do," Mr. McEvoy says. Jokingly, he says taking a date to the pool hall lets him use the old "honey, let me show you how to hold your pool stick" line to get close to a woman.

"It won't work with her, though," Mr. McEvoy says, referring to Ms. Stevenson. "She knows all my tricks."

But Mr. McEvoy does have a point about pool being a two-person game. You can play by yourself, but it's more fun in a group. Singles looking to be part of a couple might meet someone between the 8-ball and the corner pocket.

Such places as Champion Billiards Cafe in Towson, Rockville and Laurel; Edgar's, downtown on Pratt Street; and Nottingham's in Columbia cater to the young and single crowd. However, on big "date nights" like Friday and Saturday, be prepared to wait up to an hour for a table. A pool hall can get just as crowded as the local nightclub.

In the meantime, there are plenty of other things for the young and single pool player to do at the parlor, whether it be having dinner while you wait for a table or hanging out at the bar. For beer lovers, Champion in Towson will open its own micro-brewery this month. Edgar's offers everything from drink and happy-hour specials to ladies' night, trivia contests and a DJ playing music on Friday and Saturday nights.

For insomniacs, and players who can't get enough of the game, several pool halls are open 24 hours. Star Billiards on Hospital Drive in Glen Burnie is open 24 hours on weekends; and Jack and Jill on Crain Highway in Glen Burnie is open non-stop, as are the three Champion locations.

"You'd be surprised; we get quite a few people here late at night," says Joe Sita, bar manager at Champion. "People don't want to come to Denny's, so they come here." Among his customers, Mr. Sita says, is a group of exotic dancers from the club Kaos, who stop by at 5 a.m. for breakfast and a couple of games.

"On weekends, we're real busy," says Eun Soo Sur, who along with her husband, Wan Sun Sur, owns Star Billiards.

Among her customers, you'll find 24-year-old Paul Starr shooting pool in the wee hours of the morning. He's been playing pool since he was 7, he says, and tries to make it to the pool hall every night.

"I can't sleep at night, so I come here," he says.

You'd think with all that practice, Mr. Starr would be a regular pool shark. Not necessarily.

"I'm a terrible player," he says. "Most times, Miss Soo beats me."

Here are the locations and phone numbers of the pool halls mentioned in the story:

Champion Billiards Cafe, Towson. Perring Plaza. (410) 665-7500.

Champion Billiards Cafe, Rockville. 1776 E. Jefferson St. (301) 231-4949.

Champion Billiards Cafe, Laurel. 904 Fairlawn Ave. (301) 604-1300.

Edgar's Inc. 1 E. Pratt St., plaza level, on skywalk between Hyatt and Convention Center. (410) 752-8080.

Jack and Jill Cue Club. 512 Crain Highway North, Glen Burnie. (410) 766-4444.

Nottingham's Inc. 8850 Stanford Blvd., Columbia. (410) 290-0077.

Star Billiards. 337 Hospital Drive, Glen Burnie. (410) 553-9782.

Top Hat Cue Club. 8809 Satyr Hill Road, Parkville (near Joppa Road and Perring Parkway). (410) 665-1906.

Pub Date: 3/14/96

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