Havertown Club Puts A Different Spin On Shooting Pool Smoke-filled Rooms Are Out. Designer Wallpaper And High Ceilings Are In.

Posted: October 31, 1994

HAVERTOWN — Giving a polished, if not genteel, look to the game that made hustlers and sharks notorious is the goal of the Pockets Cafe & Billiards Club.

Maybe it's the Ralph Lauren wallpaper and the 25-foot ceilings, or the arched windows, or the dance club and the full bar, as well as the thrill of the game, that are attracting customers. Whatever the reason, the 17 regulation-size billiards tables are full almost every night.

"This place goes against the traditional concept of the smoke-filled back room with burly guys all around," said Bob Slagon, a 45-year-old patron of the club.

For those new to the game, Pockets provides an atmosphere conducive to play.

"It's a nice place to come and work on your game, because competition isn't cutthroat," said David Bogart, 30, of Narberth.

For the more seasoned pool player, the club offers neat, well-maintained tables.

"At a lot of the local bars, the balls are all beat up and the tables are all torn up. These are probably salable for private use," Slagon said.

Customers' comments are right in line with what Pockets' owner Andy Rooke envisioned when he opened the club two years ago.

"Originally the vision was to give people a nice place to shoot pool," he said. He envisioned pool as a game open to all, comfortable to play, and divorced from stereotypical hustler images generally associated with the game.

"We wanted to decorate it so that women especially would feel comfortable coming here," Rooke said.

Rooke spent $500,000 on the idea that people going out for the evening wanted to do more than just drink.

"This place has a clean, crisp look about it," he said. "We've gotten rid of low ceilings and those unattractive lamps that allow smoke to just hang."

He hopes that by making his club comfortable, he will be able to eliminate the idea that pool is a male-only pastime played in back rooms by drunkards and gamblers.

"If you can get women to come in and look around and try the game, you've pretty much been successful in making a nice place," said Rooke, who sees women as vital to the sport's expansion.

The result was a 7,000-square-foot club.

Although slow in catching on, people are starting to try out the club, which is on the second floor of the old L & M Caterers building, at West Chester Pike and Eagle Road.

"There's always something to do here," said Bruce Baldwin, 37, of Havertown. "Going out isn't just talking; you're doing something fun when you come here."

Laura Koenig, 23, of Media, and Nick Cifelli, 28, of Brookhaven, go to Pockets because of the atmosphere.

"At other places, when you have this many people, you're usually just waiting for a fight to break out," Cifelli said.

On a weeknight, Pockets will attract a cross section of the population. Customers pay $3 to $4.25 an hour per person for a table, depending on how many people play together. All 17 tables are full by 8:30 p.m. They're filled with people attending office-sponsored happy hours and billiards leagues, or those out on dates.

"I've shot in a lot of different pool places," said Mike Palmer, 32, of Springfield. "But I think the atmosphere here is really just more conducive to having a nice time."

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