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Rack 'em up, the Enabler is here

Shooting pool in a bar is unlike playing anywhere else. Here's a toast to its charming unpredictability.

March 01, 2013|By Jessica Gelt, Los Angeles Times
  • Jordan Lee shoots pool at the Smog Cutter in Los Angeles.
Jordan Lee shoots pool at the Smog Cutter in Los Angeles. (Ricardo DeAratanha / Los…)

The Enabler slips three tarnished quarters into a coin slot. Pool balls rattle down a chute, and she rounds them up in a triangle. Finished racking, she faces her foe. He's Australian. How good can he be at American bar pool?

Still, this is the Smog Cutter, a rough-and-tumble dive on Virgil, which runs like an arthritic spine through the underappreciated backside of Silver Lake. The Enabler has spent enough time on this tattered table to know one thing for sure: Men generally hate it when a woman beats them at pool.

But that's part of the fun. It's why over the last decade the Enabler has spent countless sodden hours seeking out competitive bar pool tables across the city. From the dank Tango Room in MacArthur Park, to the White Horse below the Super 8 motel on Western, to the dollhouse-sized table at the Liquid Zoo in the Valley, the Enabler has staked her claim in grubby quarters and smudgy blue chalk.

"You're one of the good ones," Mike Averill, the doorman at the Smog Cutter, tells the Enabler. He's been watching her play in various states of intoxication for years. (The Enabler likes to think she is at the top of her game once she hits her third vodka soda.)

Bartender Joanne Yutthayot isn't so sure. She regards the Enabler skeptically, having just watched her call an easy combo and fail.

"You play for fun, not for money," she decides.

Unlike billiards, bar pool is unpredictable. An unfortunately placed wall, Lana Del Rey on the jukebox, or an overly drunken competitor all add last-minute handicaps, rendering a win that much sweeter.

Later that night at the White Horse, the Enabler snacks on cookies left out by the fierce Hungarian owner, Victoria Lelea, and watches a couple stand by the table kissing and occasionally shooting.

This is irritating. Bar pool has an unspoken code of etiquette. Hogging the table by not taking a shot for an inordinate amount of time, particularly in the service of romantic advancement is a foul of the highest order. (If it's the Enabler making out by the pool table — which she would never do, by the way — this rule no longer applies.)

The Enabler orders vodka on the rocks and contemplates ways to broadcast her disapproval. But Lelea is a step ahead of her. Standing beneath a sign that reads, "I'm Busy Now, Can I Ignore You Some Other Time?" Lelea looks at the pool table and sighs.

"If it would depend on me I would throw them out a long time ago," says Lelea with her trademark Eastern European candor. The Enabler nods in agreement.

But it turns out that Lelea's not just talking about Romeo and Juliet over there but about the pool table and the pool players in general. The White Horse can get really busy on the weekends, and when it does the pool table is a nuisance.

There could be a room full of paying customers and the one guy who put 75 cents in a coin slot thinks he owns the place. Committed bar pool players will do anything to continue their game.

If the Enabler had $1 for every time she gently tapped someone on the shoulder and said, "Could you please move? I need to make this shot," she would have enough money to buy passage to a beach in Borneo, where she is fairly certain her future husband would be living in a hand-woven hut, spearing fish for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

But until then it's just an endless stream of weeknights to bank on the poetry of solid green tables lighted by cheap neon beer advertisements. Even if the Enabler's bar pool skills are — as she was once told in a smoke-filled dive in Tucson — a sign of an ill-spent youth, they are still vital traits.

After all, when life puts you behind the 8 ball, the only way to feel better is to sink one in a bar.

jessica.gelt@latimes.com

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