There's no problem with having a couple beers, getting a little rowdy, and shooting some pool at the bar with friends. There are some players, though, that want so much more than that.
At Kenai's Sharp's Billiards, they can get what they're looking for. Three years ago, Philip Brower and Tim Adams opened a billiards hall to serve a demographic untapped in the Kenai/Soldotna area, a demographic that wanted top-of-the-line equipment, a clean environment, and a place to congregate with fellow billiards purists.
"The equipment here is superior to anywhere else I've been," said Steven Patrick, pointing out that Sharp's features professional-grade nine-foot tables, while bar tables usually come in around seven or eight feet. "Overall it's just a more relaxed family environment."
That family environment means no smoking and no drinking, two habits that are almost inextricably linked to the sport in most people's minds. Patrick, though, likes when his opponents keep their wits about them and take the game as seriously as he does.
"I've played bar league before," he said. "I can't stand it because of the drunks."
Aside from catering to the more diehard players who don't want to deal with drunken drama, the smoke and alcohol-free establishment also accommodates families who want to expose their kids to the sport without taking them into a bar.
"Kenai has only been exposed to what the bars have to offer," said Seth Stacey, another regular who played semi-professional billiards and quit drinking and smoking a while back. "This is just something we have to get out so that the players can see it and the casual family can truly see what the sport is about, not associated with people's crutches, which would be the booze or the smoking."
Co-owner Tim Adams said that in addition to families with younger kids, teenagers have also taken a liking to Sharp's, using it as a second teen center. Adams said that teens will frequently come in later at night with their friends to play a little and snack on some of the basic junk food -- chips, candy, soda -- that is sold at the counter.
"The kids needed a good place," said Stacey. "Something different. They needed a good indoor activity."
Stacey said that when some of the more seasoned billiards players see a kid demonstrating a love of the sport, they will frequently take the greenhorn under their wing and offer advice and other tricks of the trade to help them improve.
Stacey, Patrick, and other veteran players will often partake in some of the tournaments Sharp's offers, such as the Big Shot tournament, a special event hosted by the billiards hall that is designed for the more experienced player. However, Sharp's also hosts a nine-ball tournament every Thursday and an eight-ball tournament every Sunday; both are handicapped, meaning that in order to win, the better players have to win more games than the novices, to make it more fair.
The variety of tournaments, the exceptional equipment, and the family environment have all earned Sharp's plenty of praise, including Best Small Business of the Year, a statewide award Adams and Brower received just last month.
"It was sweet," Adams said simply. "I was kind of blown away."
Adams said he hopes more people will venture out to Sharp's to experience what the "gentleman's" sport of billiards truly has to offer, instead of writing it off as a pastime only capable of being enjoyed in a dingy, smoke-choked bar.
Karen Garcia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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