Prague Pool Halls
Seeking the city's best billiard room, Oliver White reminds himself just how bad at eight-ball he really is
Ah, pool -- or "billiards," as some stuffy folk with monocles may prefer -- the gentleman's sport. (Wait, no, that's boxing…) In any case, to call it a sport would be using the word in the loosest sense; along with darts, fishing, bowling, shuffleboard, "quarters", and bloody-bloody nose, pool has found a niche defined by lots of beer, high cholesterol and ogling women -- all combined into one leisurely act and deep-fried. That's true of the game today, dear reader, but you may be surprised to learn about pool's aristocratic origins.
Which won't appear in this article.
Instead, this article sends me out to find the best of pool in Prague. It's a tough job, and I don't expect all the pool cues to survive. The first place I visited was Harlequin, located just down the way from Náměstí Míru.
Billiard Club Harlequin
Vinohradska 25, Prague 2
A pool table costs 111 CZK for the first hour, and is then charged on a per-minute basis beyond that, they carry Krušovice for 27 CZK per half liter, Becherovka for 40 CZK, moderately priced but low-grade food, awful house cues (but plenty of 'em), large and clean tables, a full darts-range downstairs, and a surly wait staff.
If you have your own cue, bring it. Otherwise, the game without one is quite sad, especially on these enormous tables. It may help to bring a step stool as well. It's a great location and the reasonable rates make this a place I will return to, even though it serves Krušovice (not my favorite). You can make reservations by calling, texting, or online at www.harlequin.zde.cz, and this might be a good idea if you can't be there by 8pm; the place gets packed by hardcore players, all with their own cues. Just don't bet anyone over a game, even if they look hopeless -- I had to walk home. And I normally drive.
Billiard Club Albertov
Na slupi 143/3, Prague 2
The Shtick: Pool costs 50 CZK per hour, but they charged me 60 CZK because I'm a foreigner; two good tables, four terribly bald cues (like shooting with a cue made of pool balls, although they are fairly straight); a foosball table sitting literally at center stage; very smoky; broken walls; Gambrinus for 18 CZK, Chodovar for 15 CZK (but don't try this beer anywhere but the brewery, near Mariánské Lázně); and a dartboard around which there's very little room to play if the pool table is being used.
Recommendation: This place is probably the cheapest place to play pool where the tables aren't made of bones and sheepskin (terrible friction, you know). It caters to students who are too poor to care about hygiene, quality, and atmosphere. Trams 7, 18, and 24 stop just down the street, if you're coming from the center. It's smoky and depraved and has a certain disgusting feel about it, as if you don't want to accidentally bump into anything. The bathrooms are also unforgivably bad, and partially doorless. If you feel like having that kind of night, grab a hundred crowns and come here.
Šmeralova 130/5, Prague 7
The Shtick: Twelve quality tables in a space for 10, excellent, straight house cues, fast service, pool for 75 CZK an hour (the price hasn't changed in three years); Pilsner Urquell for 31 CZK, Gambrinus for 25 CZK; normal bathrooms (meaning not terrible); a pretty decent music mix; friendly patrons; and the least smoky atmosphere yet.
The Recommendation: The tables at Akademie are nearly spotless, and for good reason -- don't let an employee see you hanging a cigarette over the felt because you'll get canned. (Each table is surrounded by about four no-smoking signs.) It's easy to get to as well -- just take tram 1, 8, 15, 25 or 26 to Letenské Náměstí and walk down Šmeralova, past nearby Fraktal, whose food I'd recommend over Akadamie's fried offerings. This club was the best of any that I visited.
Sport & Fun City
Nový Smíchov, Plzeňská 8, Prague 5
The Shtick: Annoying location, near the cinema at that blathering idiot mall; 10 decent tables, normal cues; expensive drinks (our fluorescent orange menu said 33 CZK for all beer); crawling with teenage jail bait and pimply-faced suitors; bad techno; and they close at 11pm, which means all the gamblers playing slot machines have to leave too.
The Recommendation: I wouldn't go here again if they told me my beer would be free and my pool table would enhance my Czech grammar knowledge. It was a mistake to come here, and I knew it, but the pool hall down the street, at Ženské domovy, apparently closed six months earlier. The one positive is that if you're waiting for a movie or your girlfriend is shopping, you can always pop in for a tepid beer and the annoying scene.
V cípu 1, Prague 1
The Shtick: Lots of space, great chairs and seating, at least 20 good tables; 109 CZK per hour from 5pm until 2am; mediocre house beer (Černá Hora for 22 CZK); poor cues; strange music; outrageous tab/bill system; motley crowd; bowling, darts and table tennis available; limited menu of bar food; unfriendly staff.
The Recommendation: The location is great, and the actual building, down a strange alley that makes you doubt you're in the right place, is majestic inside. Billard Centrum occupies what looks like an old ballroom, massive in dimensions, with a corrugated 1920s-style ceiling and eight, enormous, unlit chandeliers. I nicknamed the chairs "pool thrones", because they're exactly that -- each high chair has two beer holders, with little notches grooved into each arm to hold your cue upright. It's empty on Tuesdays, but can get very packed. They operate a ticket system here, because of the multi-leveled facility's sheer size, and if you lose your tab, you pay an automatic 1,500 CZK. A friend has had a bad experience with this, so watch out. Keep your tab in your pocket. A good place unless you have to tangle with the burly security guard who, I'm told, is completely unforgiving about the whole "missing tab" thing.
Billiards may not be the gentleman's sport per se, but there are locations within your reach throughout the city. Prague is seemingly packed with places to shoot a little stick, but be aware that some internet sites list information for places that no longer exist. I chose the five places listed above based on friends' recommendations and word on the street. Feel free to try other places too. The main thing is that no matter how bad you suck at pool, you can probably just get drunk and blame it on that.
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