Jackie Gleason and Paul Newman in The Hustler
Philip Denny has handed in his two-week notice to Aziza’s on Main. In a little more than a month, he’ll head up the kitchen at Greenleaf Pool Room and Restaurant, soon to be located at Sixth and Franklin Streets in the John Marshall building. (A May 1 opening is planned.)
It might take a moment to wrap your mind around the idea of a pool hall with upscale food, but Jim Gottier (who co-owns the business along with wife Andrea Ball) has an infectious enthusiasm that’s difficult to resist. He’s a first-time business owner, but knows the billiard game inside and out. He doesn’t want to be called a professional pool player — he’s wary of the title’s connotations, “and besides, you can’t make any money at it. You have to love pool to do it,” he says. But he’s the real deal: “I’ve been a pool player forever. … I’ve beaten my share of world-class players and been beaten by them.” He was internationally ranked ninth four years ago.
Gottier wants to create a different kind of pool hall — one that hearkens back to billiards’ glamorous past. He’s aiming for a 1930s and '40s vibe: “I want to evoke pool’s great history without being a movie set. … it will be a poetic reflection of what the game used to be.” What the game used to be, yes, but substantially upgraded. There will be state-of-the art equipment, a world-class tournament every year, a cocktail program designed by The Roosevelt’s T Leggett — and Denny’s food.
“Philip wants to do a great lunch counter — to think about what that would be like,” he says. It will be a “significant restaurant space,” but the focus is on pool, and pool-playing demands food that you can hold in your hands. At night, a few small, Spanish-inflected plates (food Gottier fell in love with while walking the El Camino to Santiago de Compestela) will be added to the menu.
“[We’re] lucky, happy, delighted to have Philip on board as a chef and as a person. … It’s a bit of a boutique with 13 pool tables; I’d like to have 20,” says Gottier. “[But] we’re really excited about it — it’s going to fun. It’s been a joy to get to know [Denny’s] food and to get to know him personally.”