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Best Renovated Room — Winner: Chattanooga Billiard Club (Chattanooga, Tenn.)

Story by George Fels

YOU’VE GOT to respect a man who doesn’t hold anything back. Asked about his background in billiards, Phil Windham, owner of the Chattanooga Billiard Club, unabashedly replies, “I’ve misspent my youth in poolrooms all my life.”

Originally from Mississippi, Windham went to a small junior college there, and glumly noticed that what passed for a student union offered a video game or two and not much more. So he went to the faculty, and suggested the addition of a pool table, volunteering to acquire and maintain the table himself in exchange for half the income. He was told he could have that arrangement as long as he remained a student there. Thus he became a student and recreation-room manager at the same time.

After leaving school, Windham went to Tennessee, where he had arranged a honest-to-goodness job selling tombstones. That cheerful path was detoured when he met Hall of Famer Mike Massey, and the two men partnered in a room bearing Massey’s name for about 2-1/2 years before going their separate ways. But they’re still close in at least one way: Massey’s son from an earlier marriage, David, is a successful banker in a building touching the one that houses Chattanooga Billiards.

Windham’s room was first born in 1982. Ten years later, he added another installation, in Chattanooga’s east suburbs, and that room won an advertising award from the Billiard Congress of America in its first year. His first room is found in the town’s main business section. For a while, it held the only billiards and snooker tables in all of Chattanooga, but as he says, “We had decent play on both. But then we’d have two- to four-hour waiting lists for pool, and those tables would be laying fallow, and I guess I just got greedy.” So he sold both, and now his room is entirely pool, eight barboxes and four standard-size tables.And there’s also a cigar shop either connected to or actually in both rooms.

The million-dollar renovation you see here affected redoing the entire first and third floors of the building. The kitchen was moved to the first floor, and the bar was completely redone too. And economy be damned, the room’s business is actually up about 10 percent from last year. The only bona fide commercial-room competition he faces is in the suburbs. Pretty rosy picture for a guy who misspent his youth all his life.

Best Renovated Room — Runner-Up: All American Billiards (Musckogee, Okla.)

Story by Mike Panozzo

WHEN JOHN and Deniese Leach purchased All American Billiards five years ago, their first order of business was to perform a gentle makeover of the then-20-year-old billiard room’s clientele. Not that the customer base was unruly or disrespectful. But it just didn’t scream “Family fun around the pool table!” like the Leaches envisioned.

“We had some kids who came in groups all wearing the same colored hoodies, or wearing bandanas and cut-off t-shirts,” says Deniese. “They never gave us trouble, but it intimidated some people.”

Over the next two years, the Leaches were more vigilant about patrolling the parking lot. They hired a doorman on weekends, and posted (and enforced) rules and a modest dress code. Eventually, the community around Muskogee, Okla., (pop. 35,000) began to notice the change. The room’s business increased, and All American Billiards started to become the room the Leaches had hoped it would. And when the room went smoke-free, business continued to grow.

“Now people come from Tahlequah and Checotah,” says Deniese, referring to some of the other small towns south and east of Tulsa.

The Leaches are understandably proud of the family atmosphere at All American Billiards, but they are even prouder of the fact that All American succeeds as a “real” poolhall. The room supports itself solely from pool, not from the sale of alcohol or gaming, or the lure of karaoke or the like.

“People who love pool shouldn’t have to go to a bar to play,” insists Deniese. “In Oklahoma you can’t play pool without going to a bar.”

But beside modest sales from the grill and soft drink services offered at All American, the room survives on pool. There is league play three nights a week, with 8-ball leagues competing on the room’s 10 coin-op tables and 9-ball on the 17 8- and 9-foot tables. All American even has youth leagues on Saturday mornings.

Last year, with All American’s customer facelift complete, the Leaches turned their attention to a physical makeover. John, who shuttered his flooring business after 30 years to take on a more fulfilling endeavor, served as contractor when Haddock Construction stripped down the 12,000-square-foot space. The Leaches gutted the bathrooms, pulled down walls and pulled up the flooring. The new space features stained mahogany wainscoting and library paneling around the back bar. New carpeting and flooring was laid down, and all new seating was added to the room.

Today, All American Billiards is “a pool country club,” as Deniese likes to call it. And the people of the small industrial town, home to Georgia Pacific and Dal-Tile Corporation plants, flock to the room as a community center where pool lovers can play pool without distraction.

Much like the famous line from “The Hustler,” All American Billiards has pool. No bar. No pinball machines. No karaoke. Just pool.

And that’s just the way John and Deniese Leach want it.


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