Jillian’s Billiard Club has 39 tournament pool tables, no beer, no jukebox and a dress code. And the posh billiard parlor is packed with the game’s new upscale clientele.
The club opened in July on the third floor of a former warehouse; similar clubs have been popping up in cities nationwide.
Patrons include men and women, most between 25 and 40, many on dates. No betting is allowed, and a resident professional gives lessons for $25 an hour.
The tables are in spacious rows on a polished maple floor surrounded by a brass railing and deep carpeting. Dark green curtains hold back sunlight from arched windows.
Many evenings, players must take numbers and cool their cues in an adjoining cafe until a table opens. Corporate customers, mainly brokerage firms and management consultants, have taken to renting a back room and part of the main floor for private parties.
Such success has not gone unnoticed.
Manager and co-owner Kevin J. Troy said prospective pool hall owners from other cities have been coming through Jillian’s at a rate of about one a week.
Upscale pool halls have opened in New York, Miami and Dallas, and others are planned in Los Angeles, and the Florida cities of Tampa and Orlando, said James J. Bakula, director of operations for Brunswick Corp., the nation’s largest pool table manufacturer.
“The old image of pool was that it was dangerous, there were hustlers, dark rooms, grubbiness, people losing money, people getting robbed,” said Mark Cord, assistant director of the Billiard Congress of America, a trade association in Iowa City, Iowa.
“But lately, pool is associated more with something being classy. There are these classy rooms opening up in the big cities, and there is constantly magazine advertising using pool tables. You see a slinky lady leaning up against a table, and a guy in a tuxedo, advertising Ralph Lauren. The same thing with Christian Dior, Jordache--they’ve all done that.”
Ron Blatt, whose family firm in New York City has made custom pool tables since 1923, said pocket billiards was a gentleman’s game fancied by railroad magnates and oil tycoons from the 1890s until the 1930s. But with its spread to neighborhood bars and bowling alleys during and after World War II, it took on a tough-guy image.
Blatt attributed the game’s “yuppie attraction” to the Madison Avenue ad campaigns and to a 1986 movie, “The Color of Money,” which starred Paul Newman and Tom Cruise as pool hotshots. Newman won an Oscar for re-creating “Fast Eddie” Felson, the character he played in “The Hustler.”
Some think the upscale pool craze began in Japan two years ago, after “The Color of Money” played there. Bakula said Brunswick has shipped more than 1,000 tables to Asia in the last two years.
Brunswick doubled its annual production from 8,000 to 16,000 tables since 1986, he said, but still could not keep up with the demand last year and had to turn away some Japanese orders.