The pool hall, the last bastion of blue-collar manliness, has gone chic.
Q's Billiard Club recently opened on the 11800 block of Wilshire Boulevard with smoking and nonsmoking sections (although no cigars or pipes), a dress code, a doorman, valet parking and waitresses serving drinks and food.
Although open only a month, there are already lines to get in on Friday and Saturday nights, and a waiting list to play on one of the 11 (seven nonsmoking) pool tables at $10 an hour for two, or $15 an hour for four. Playing time is limited to an hour and a half.
Players are escorted to their pool table by a host or hostess, who cleans the table of chalk dust and racks up the balls.
Members of the young, attractive, well-dressed crowd--nearly half women--sip cocktails and imported beers between knocking balls around the red-felt six-pocket pool tables. The women giggle, the men smile as the white cue ball misses its target and goes straight into the corner pocket.
Players can also glance up at wall-mounted televisions showing the latest sporting events via cable and a satellite dish. Other young urban professionals, waiting for a pool table, can also watch a large screen television and several smaller screens. Backgammon, checkers and chess games are also available for patrons to amuse themselves while waiting for a table.
The kitchen stays open until 1 a.m. weeknights and until 1:30 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays. The menu consists of chicken, ribs, burgers and salad.
Term 'Billiard Club' Preferred
But hold the California jokes, please. This upscale pool hall--the owners prefer the term billiard club-- is not the first of its kind. That honor, according to entertainment publicist Richard Lewis, belongs to Chelsea Billiards, which opened last year in New York City. Others have opened since in Chicago and Boston, and now there are several in New York.
"People were looking for an alternative way to meet other people away from a dance floor and away from inebriated people," Lewis said. "They took the dark, musty, seediness out of pool halls and made them bright, with nice carpeting. They changed the whole atmosphere of the pool hall. They made it a nice place where nice people want to go."
Chelsea Billiards, in Manhattan, is a 15,000-square-foot two-level pool hall with 53 tables. Like all pool halls licensed in New York City, the sale of alcoholic beverages is prohibited.
Marion Haller, one of the owners, said the idea behind Chelsea Billiards was to create a pleasant environment where people could play pool.
"We're doing extremely well," Haller said. "We have students as well as men in shirts and ties and women in business suits."
Lewis said at least two new billiard clubs are planned for Hollywood--one of them, he said, by the former general manager of Chelsea Billiards, who wants to build the largest billiard club in the world.
"It will be much more upscale than Q's," Lewis said. "It will have private rooms, nice restaurants and probably more than 60 regulation-size tables."
Q's owners say they initially opened their place out of frustration at not finding a place to play pool.
Owners Avi Fattal, 33, David Houston, 25, and his wife, Sheri Hellard-Houston, 24, said they noticed lines at billiard parlors in the Westside and the San Fernando Valley, where they live. They decided that by drawing from that existing demand and catering to affluent Westsiders, they could create a new concept.
"We wanted to create a combination of a sports bar, a restaurant and a pool hall, yet someplace where women would feel comfortable," Fattal said.
A fourth partner, Yossi Kviatovksy, a billiard table manufacturer, later joined the other three.
The owners said they originally hoped to open a place in the valley closer to their homes, but when a restaurant failed at their present location, they decided the Westside was better for the clientele they hoped to attract.
"Q's is in a location that will cater to yuppies. It's a very clean-cut clientele. You're not going to get any Fast Eddies in there," said Lewis, referring to the Paul Newman character in the movie "The Hustler."
So far, business has been beyond expectations.
"After a month, we're where we thought we'd be after three months," Hellard-Houston said.
"I definitely feel comfortable here," said patron Lore Lutz, 26, who has been to the club several times. "I like to play pool, and I like to meet people. The guys help me play pool. And there are some cute guys here, too."
"You can definitely meet women here," said one well-dressed male pool player who asked not to be identified.
Another male player said: "I met a woman attorney here last week, and we went home together."
Meanwhile, less than two miles west of Q's on Wilshire, patrons at the more traditional House of Billiards greeted the new emporium with a mixture of indifference and disdain.
"That's not a pool hall, it's just a hangout for yuppies," said Jim Smotherman, 37, who has been coming to the House of Billiards for 15 years. "I haven't seen anyone in (Q's) who knows how to shoot pool."
"I've been playing pool since I was 11 or 12 years old," said Ron Hall, 59, "but if (Q's) was the only pool hall around, I still would never walk in there."
At the House of Billiards, which has occupied the corner of Wilshire Boulevard and 19th Street for about 20 years, two players can play evenings at one of 20 tables for $5.50 an hour, with an extra buck each for a third or fourth player.
No hard alcohol is served, but a draft beer goes for $1.10, a pitcher of beer for $4.25, a glass of wine for $1.50 and soft drinks for 50 cents. Pizza slices and sandwiches are also served. Bartender Aundre Speciale says the place gets full evenings and weekends, with a waiting list for tables most nights.