Take a cue from us on where to find Bangkok’s best billiard bars
I am an enthusiastic pool player, and have been since I was a teenager. When I first arrived in Thailand I was amazed (and still am) by the country, but naturally, as a newbie, when I first went to the city’s bars my attention was centered on who was there rather than what was there. But when I chanced upon a bar in Nana Plaza called Woodstock I was over the moon to see an American-style pool table sitting there in all its glory. I became a regular, as it was the only pool table in the city during the late 80’s.
Skip forward a few years to the arrival in the city of Steven Rea, a semi-pro snooker player from the UK, without whom the story of dedicated pool bars in Bangkok could not even be told. By the time of his arrival in Bangkok there were a few more bars with pool tables, and Steve—to this day one of the best pool players in Thailand—was a regular at them. In the long-gone New Wave on Sukhumvit Soi 7, he had soon earnt quite a bit of money playing with the regulars, but he went to other places too (now all defunct), such as Flyers, where he arranged and set up competitions for the expats and locals before heading home.
Back in England he was surprised to receive an email from Risto Karell, the Finnish owner of After Work on Sukhumvit Soi 19 (where Terminal 21 now sits). Risto had heard through the grapevine about Steve, and the email was to offer Steve a job as manager of his pool joint—an opportunity Steve jumped at with no hesitation, cos’ he had, in fact, become enamored with Thailand and loved the pool lifestyle.
From that time onwards Steve had a hand in nearly all the pool bars in Bangkok, either managing them, or as a partner. And it’s thanks to Steve that the billiards scene in Bangkok is as vibrant and healthy as it is today. The three best pool bars in Bangkok in 2018 are all on the lower Sukhumvit Road strip—The Sportsman on Soi 13, The Sports Academy, between Soi 13 and Soi 15, and Hustlers, in the basement of Times Square (opposite Robinson’s department store).
The Sports Academy is owned by the aforementioned Risto Karell, and is run day-to-day by his managing partner, Egyptian national Ramy Halmy. Ramy told me his place features 7 full-size (9 ft) Brunswick Metro tables, and that they are reconditioned with new baize playing surfaces every seven to eight months. There are nine table girls, and the new ones learn quickly how to set up the tables for 8-, 9-, or 10-ball games. The bar has a busy 9-ball competition on Tuesdays, and league games on Mondays and Wednesdays, which are also well-attended. But there are always tables left free for walk-in customers, priced at B270 per hour, or B300 for three hours from 4pm to 7pm. All major sports can be seen on their large flat screen TVs, the kitchen serves local and international food, and local and imported ales are available at reasonable prices. Their signature drink is a ‘Fiso’ shot from Finland—vodka and a Fisherman’s Friend tablet, topped up with Sprite. Give it a go!
Next up is Hustlers, owned by entrepreneur and businessman Graham Hill, with his managing partner Stuart Pettman (ex-pro snooker player), who are both Brits. They have 11 full-size Brunswick tables, which are refurbished every six months (or sooner should they require it). Meanwhile, the players are well-taken care of by the pretty set-up girls, with 9- and 10-ball competitions held every Sunday. The customers are primarily Asian, but there is a good mix of local ex-pats, too. Tables are hired at B270 per hour, but team players and VIP’s get a discount, and all regular customers receive free VIP membership. Major sporting events are shown on their large flat screen TVs, and food can be ordered from the nearby Tham Nan restaurant, who, I believe, serve up some of the best Thai food in the city (pizzas from outside can also be ordered and delivered). Chinese-made cues are available inside Hustlers, and just outside the front door Asia Billiards sells accessories and professional standard cues.
The final place to look at is The Sportsman, on Soi 13. It’s owned and run by a group of Brits, including Joseph Veriato, who leaves the pool side of things in the hands of Vutthiphan ‘TT’ Kongkaket, a member of the Thai national team (she’s probably Thailand’s best female pool player, and gives most guys a good run for their money, too). On the second level of the bar there are seven Brunswick and one Players table—more tables downstairs—which are serviced once a year. Seven or eight girls take care of the tables, and the customer mix is 50 percent Thai, 20 percent Brits, with the rest made up of people coming from just about anywhere in the world. The cost for a table is also B270 per hour, or B120 from 4pm to 7pm (and till 1am on Thursdays), and Mondays and Wednesdays are league days.
As with the other bars mentioned, all major sports are shown at The Sportsman, but for special live broadcast sporting events they can open early or close late, depending on the time difference. The kitchen here is also just about the best of all the pool bars, with six chefs on two shifts making Thai and Western fare. There’s also local and international beers, plus Magners and Stowford Press ice cold ciders. Luxury!
All the establishments mentioned here are friendly places, usually with good music playing in the background as well. So take a “cue” from me and give yourself a well-earned “break” at any of these fine billiard halls.
League Membership Fees
If you want to join the bar’s team, the management first has to rate and handicap you as a player. The bar then pays for membership in the league (hence the team members pay nothing). At The Sportsman and The Sports Academy league membership is B1,500, while at Hustlers it’s B1,000.
By Robin Westley Martin