Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Pool in North Hollywood

I've found -- or have been lead to -- a few pool halls in my new hometown, but I continue to search for that certain joint, the one where I'll feel comfortable being as non-productive as the game requires. Last Friday I stumbled upon a place in North Hollywood, much closer to where I live than the other's I've been to. Later that night I grabbed my cue to go check it out.

A five minute drive and a twenty minute search for parking finally brought me to the doors. And while those doors may have said North Hollywood Billiards, the scene inside was more akin to something a few hundred miles south. The place was thick with smoke, California laws need not apply here. Up front were several groups of guys banging balls around recklessly, cheering each other on and clearly having a good time after whatever their day asked of them. Towards the back were the regulars, I don't know that they were the regulars, they just had that air about them. A decent spread of mismatched tables, questionable clientele, and a beer-only bar, Mark Spitz couldn't have asked for a better dive.

I asked the elder sunglassed man at the counter for a table and he handed me a set of balls and told me to take my pick. As I walked towards table 18 I had to glance back to make sure it wasn't Robert Evans. As I set up my racks, the jukebox played an odd mix of tejano and hair metal. I warmed up for a bit and then got into some 9 Ball, a few games in I made an awesome 9 on the break but was instantly reminded there was no one who cared to witness it. Split down the middle of the back area were a row of stools where dudes with nothing better to do sat and smoked and watched the games. When one game would end they'd all slowly turn around in their chairs in unison to face another table. Old cues held by older men made their way around the felt, most of them opted for Pool Golf instead of 8 or 9 Ball... an interesting activity. This one fellow had the most beautiful cue I'd ever seen: A rich and deep royal blue quartered off with silver-lined white diamonds.

The unique thing about this place was that in the back it actually had Billiards tables. "Pool," you may or may not know, is a slang term for Pocket Billiards. Billiards proper is played on an immense table with no pockets. I've got no clue how to play the original game, in fact I have trouble even keeping pace with Straight Pool, the game that was by far the game of choice up until only a couple decades ago. So after a few good runs I decided to head out. Before I left I spent some time talking with Mr. Evans -- I mean Dan -- up at the counter. It was kind of funny because he interpreted my completely casual questions soley as "Where can I get some action?" Dan laid it out for me and told me where the action was, allright. Only the occasional Billiards game in the back saw any money, but he let me know of a couple other places a ways out where the "real players go, some big names are regulars there so be careful." Noted.

I'll give NHB a few more tries, see if it can capture anything for me. It does have one thing going for it besides being the rare gem of an establishment that let's you smoke indoors... $4.50 an hour.