Sizing up the local pool tables.
There are few joys in this life like drinking beer with a pool cue in your hand. Rack up a game with a stranger, buy a pitcher, put on some George Thorogood and you’re guaranteed to make a new friend by the end of the night.
Mammoth Lakes has a good selection of pool bars, some better than others. This is the definitive ranking of the public tables in town from worst to best.
3. Sierra Nevada Lodge
-Full Sized (9 ft.)
-Free to play as long as you buy a drink from the bar
-Never a line
-Beat up cues
-No atmosphere – although we’re newbies and haven’t played it in-season when the hotel is full. It’s located in the hotel’s lobby.
The table at the Sierra Nevada Lodge has some serious staying power, but a few tragic flaws make it the worst table on this list.
The quality of play leaves much to be desired. The tips of the cues are shot. The lighting is atrocious. The felt is stained and the table has a serious east to west break. On top of that, the atmosphere in the lobby is akin to a mortuary. There is never music playing. You can’t expect a hotel lobby to match the character of a bar, but silence is a bridge too far.
How can a guy feel The Action when he can hear the sound of his own heartbeat?
This table’s greatest attributes by far are its length and price. This is the only 9-foot table open to the public in Mammoth Lakes, and it doesn’t require quarters to play. To get on the table, you just have to buy a drink at either the lobby bar or Rafters next door and ask the front desk for some cues.
Since nobody is ever trying to play on this table that one drink could keep you playing all night, but there’s a catch. The bar in the lobby of the Lodge is expensive. A Coors Light will run you $6 at the Lodge compared to $3.50 at the Clocktower Cellar.
The secret to a good night is to get to Rafters during Happy Hour, 4-6, grab a $5 pint, and get yourself on table. It won’t be the best pool you’ve ever played, and the lobby could use some Bob Seger, but it’s good for a casual night of racking and cracking with a friend.
2. The Clocktower Cellar
-$1 a Game
-Crowded On Weekends
It’s tough to beat the Clocktower for mood. The bartenders are knowledgeable, the whiskey and tap lists are long, and the crowd is lively. The jukebox is overpriced, but if you really need to hear your song to shoot good pool it’ll be on there; the catalogue is massive.
Arrive before seven for a chance to play singles. After that, it’s all doubles. If you show up alone it’s easy to find a partner. Write your name on the chalkboard to get in line.
The table takes quarters, and there’s a change machine across the bar. It’s $1 a game, which adds up. Just keep winning and you won’t have to pay.
The table attracts a range of players: beginners, wannabes, an occasional shark. It’s a friendly atmosphere. Players like to compete, not kill. Those waiting like to watch, advise, heckle, laugh.
Friday and Saturday nights are crowded. The line drags. Players drift to the bar or outside for cigarettes. The balls sit still. In between games, partners are hard to find
Intense games end in handshakes and liquor.
Late on a Saturday night its not unusual to see quality play for big money. Sergio from Black Doubt has lost his unborn child’s college fund a couple times over on that table.
The Cellar is lacking in the cue department. There are three cues. One curves both ways. It’s good for shooting around corners and scratching your back. If that’s not what you need, leave it on the rack. The other is bent but playable cue, so you’ll have to share. The jump cue has a full tip and straight shaft. It won’t hit the rock wall on a backswing.
It’s a small table. Breaks that don’t control the cue ball often scratch.
The felt is worn. The slate in front of the far right corner hole (the one in the rock wall corner) rises. Balls curl away from it. Play the tilt and add pace to a shot into that corner.
A couple pitchers of Coors and some good conversation make it easy to forget about the flaws.
1. John’s Pizza Works Outlaw Saloon.
-Best Table in Town
-Big Cue Selection
-$1 a game
The Outlaw Saloon is the place for good pool in Mammoth Lakes.
The table is level, the felt is true and dark green, and the clientele can downright shoot.
Best of all there are about ten differently weighted cues to choose from.
The table accepts quarters and dollar bills.
Space to shoot is tight at the end of the table that’s next to the shuffleboard. Communicate with shuffleboard players.
The line there isn’t long enough to warrant a chalkboard. Put a bill or quarter on the rail to mark your turn. The wait doesn’t last more than one, two, or three games.
This makes it easy to get back on the table if you lose, and it’s easy to lose. The level of play is high. Winners often choose club or tournament rules, in which table and regular scratches are penalized by giving your opponent ball-in-hand. Banging balls and getting lucky doesn’t win.
The Outlaw is open an hour longer than the Clocktower, midnight rather than 11.
Grab a pizza and a pint and enjoy some high level billiards, but be careful.
Word is there are a couple of young journalists who hang around there, and they shoot lights out. The only hope for getting them off table is to buy them enough beer that they lose their edge.