Louis Clark is a true player on Capitol Hill. If you’re a Hill insider, and you play the game as well, you probably know Clark already. That’s because by at least his own estimate Clark has taught, or is teaching, half the people on Capitol Hill the ins and outs and lesser-known intricacies of an age-old game in which power, finesse and positioning are everything.[IMGCAP(2)]
But Clark doesn’t work in a Congressional office. He has little use for lobbyists on K Street, and he tends to stick to the Southeast stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue.
Clark is a bartender by trade, but as a well-known local pool player he’s also a power player in one of Capitol Hill’s other popular pastimes, the one that is played out on felt tables in bars rather than the House and Senate floor.
Whether Members and Congressional staffers realize it or not, Capitol Hill is home to a vibrant pool culture. With 15 current American Pool Association teams mixing it up in two local divisions and playing out of six area watering holes, Capitol Hill is quickly becoming known as a good place to shoot some stick around D.C.
The two Capitol Hill pool divisions are “starting to reach what we call maturity. They’re starting to contend,” said APA league operator Lee Tiani. Tiani oversees some 75 divisions that amount to 620 eight-person teams in the national capital area. He said that in the four years since the APA has been on Capitol Hill, the local players “have learned what it takes to build a strong team.”
But the most popular pool bars on Capitol Hill sit along a stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue Southeast that is a bit out of the range of Congressional workers who don’t often travel much farther past the Hawk ‘n’ Dove when going out for some after-work revelry. As such, finding a competitive pool game is a pastime that is perhaps more popular among local Hill residents than it is among Members and Congressional staffers. [IMGCAP(1)]
For instance, two of the nicest pool tables on the Hill can be found in a large back room at Mickey’s Patio (Clark’s place of employment). This restaurant and bar located just off Pennsylvania Avenue on the stretch of Eighth Street Southeast known as Barracks Row, boasts an exclusive pool room that houses two massive 9-foot Dynamo pool tables covered in a soft sky-blue felt.
The two tables, along with the “Cheers”-esque bar feeling, brings in some of the more serious pool talent in the area, according to Mickey Pultz, who has owned Mickey’s for the past 15 years. Like all APA-affiliated bars on the Hill, Mickey’s holds official tournament games on Monday nights and currently sponsors two teams. But besides a smattering of legislative aides and group of Congressional regulars known around Mickey’s as the three-to-six club (as in their drinking hours), the bar doesn’t get a whole lot of action from Hillites who work just up the road.
And the same might also be said for the Lil’ Pub, located at 655 Pennsylvania Ave. Southeast. Owner Howard Scherr, who currently sponsors three APA teams out of his bar and personally plays for the team Lucky Break, said that along with its popular 9 oz. burgers the Lil’ Pub has long been known as a pool shooters’ haven.
A number of trophies on the wall behind the bar stools bear silent witness to the talent that has come through the Lil’ Pub. With its large pool back room, which essentially accounts for half the total bar space, the Lil’ Pub is certainly a major stop on the Pennsylvania Avenue pool circuit — especially on Wednesday nights, when Scherr hosts a house nine-ball tournament (where players have to sink nine numbered balls sequentially) and gives away prizes including $15 and $25 tabs.
Then there’s Zack’s bar and restaurant. Acknowledged by many local shooters as the best place around the Hill to catch a game, Zack’s, located at 613 Pennsylvania Ave. SE, is a bar that has built itself around its pool culture.
Walking into the dark bar, which is broken up by bright lights over its green felt pool tables, you might not immediately notice the dozens of pool trophies arranged behind the liquor bottles above the bar or the pool cue display case on the far wall. On another wall hangs a sign advertising an upcoming visit by seven-time world trick shot and artistic billiards champion Mike Massey (who is also putting in an appearance at the Lil’ Pub when he’s in town later this month).
With three 7-foot tables upstairs and one more tucked away in the basement, Zack’s boasts the most pool tables of any Hill bar, and each is spaced out enough to offer players ample room when setting up and taking shots.
“We get all the best pool players here,” said owner Zack Harrigan, who has run the bar for the past eight years and currently sponsors six teams in the APA.
“This is the most serious pool you’ll find on Capitol Hill,” he said, noting that one of his teams, the Money Shots, has advanced to the million-dollar APA national tournament in Las Vegas.
While Monday night is APA tournament night at Zack’s, Tuesday night offers a house eight-ball tournament (the standard game of pool where the eight ball is sunk last) and Thursday is always a nine-ball tournament night. On house tournament nights, the fee to enter is $5. The top two players split the pot, and Harrigan also throws in a $25 bar tab for the winner.
But the smokey pub also has a distinct neighborhood feeling to it. Besides pool, you can often find a friendly chess game being played in a bar booth, and most of the walls of Zack’s are covered in paintings by a local Capitol Hill artist who used to offer to add regular customers’ portraits to the bar’s decor for a mere $20.
Bar manager Cindy Bradshaw said the community bar feeling of Zack’s and the fact that the bar isn’t inundated with Congressional insiders has been a draw for more than one Member who say they come to Zack’s because they appreciate having a place where they can get a drink and not be bothered.
For those who would rather watch a pool game than jump into tournament play, Zack’s offers a number of cheap beer specials, including a daily 5-7 p.m. $1 draft happy hour and a Wednesday night $4 pitcher special and $1 drafts from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m (just remember, it’s very much looked down upon to rest your beer on the pool table).
The bar fare at Zack’s is also surprisingly good. Half-priced burger Wednesdays are a large draw, but the hearty “build your own” quesadillas are also not to be missed. Saturday’s are also 25 cent wing day at Zack’s.
And despite its reputation for serious pool, Zack’s and the other Hill pool bars are always ready to welcome pool neophytes.
Last Tuesday, Tenley Dalstrom, who just moved to D.C. this spring and has become one of Clark’s many students, spent her evening at Zack’s working on her shot before that night’s tournament. She said Zack’s has been a great place to learn pool and meet new friends.
As she lined up her shots, Dalstrom joked around with seasoned players like Clark and Levi Hill, who swears he’s been playing pool at Zack’s every day for the past seven years. Hill joked that it would probably be easier for him to count how many times he’s lost a tournament rather than how many times he’s won.
Clark said he hopes more Congressional staffers eventually start heading farther down Pennsylvania Avenue to the Hill’s pool bars in the future. Now, he said, all he sees are the occasional group of interns who come down the road looking for a game. “And all we do is collect their book money,” Clark said with a shrug.