Chris’s Billiards: A Chicago Classic

Photo Credit: Seth Anderson

“Pool excellence is not about excellent pool.”

That line comes from “Fast” Eddie Felson, one of the lead characters in Martin Scorsese’s 1986 film The Color of Money. Parts of that movie were shot at Chris’s Billiards here in Chicago, and that line is a nice introduction to this particular pool hall. Yes, players of incredible skill frequent the place, but no, you don’t have to be one of them to have an excellent time.

Chris’s has been a fixture in Portage Park for decades, attracting pros and amateurs alike with its 40+ tables and laid back atmosphere. The building that houses this legendary pool hall looks less than inviting; many of the street-level storefronts have been abandoned, and the long, worn staircase leading to the second floor doesn’t give the impression of anything operable waiting above. Ignore your first impressions and make your way upstairs. Past the poster for that Paul Newman/Tom Cruise flick and a poem titled “Philosophy and Pool” lies the main room of the massive warehouse-like space inhabited by Chris’s.

The front room is home to several Three-Cushion billiards tables, a Snooker table and a collection of amazing old Brunswick pool tables. This room tends to be where the serious players hang out — it’s quiet and filled with the scent of money-games. If you’re not a pool aficionado then you’ll be looking for the back or side rooms. Both of these areas are home to dozens of well-kept pool tables and some very loud internet jukeboxes. Since Chris’s is BYOB, these areas are a great place to relax with a group of friends, have a few beers and shoot pool without worrying about how many times you scratch or how many times you jump the cue off the table.

Although Chris’s doesn’t have a kitchen, they do have a snack bar filled with fruit, pastries and ice cream, as well as some of the strongest coffee you can get for fifty cents. Pricing for open play is hourly and slightly dependent on the size of your group, but it’s about as cheap as you can get in the city. While Chris’s isn’t shy about reminding you of its illustrious past (the walls are lined with trophies, photos of pro tournaments and plenty of behind-the-scenes Color of Money shots) they aren’t about to charge you for it. Therein lies one of the things that makes this pool hall stand out over all others. Chris’s is as unpretentious as possible. However, don’t think for a second that the relaxed attitude means you’re going to be playing on damaged equipment. The tables, balls and cues are all in near-perfect condition. That said, if you’ve got a Balabushka at home, bring it in — unless you’re planning to do some hustling.

Weekend nights tend to be the busiest periods and most of the tables will be in play. Weeknights are still buzzing and clacking, though, and the daytime hours are ideal for getting some quiet practice in, or maybe starting off a day-drinking binge. Chris’s also offers pool leagues and instruction, details of which you can acquire at the counter.

The Essentials:

Location: 4637 N. Milwaukee Ave
Hours: 9:30am-2am, seven days a week
Telephone: 773-286-4714

Getting there:

Driving: Street Parking
L: Blue Line, Jefferson Park exit
Bus: #56 Milwaukee bus, exit at Montrose, #78 Montrose bus, exit at Milwaukee


Gene Wagendorf III

About Gene Wagendorf III

Gene is a writer who has spent his entire quarter century of life as a resident of Chicago. When not exploring the city he can be found wandering flea markets and garage sales or having a cigarette between classes at Northeastern Illinois University, where he hopes to acquire a degree in the next quarter century. His favorite smells are old books and bowling alleys. His poetry (how embarrassing!) can be found in issues of Kill Poet, Ditch, Word Riot, O Sweet Flowery Roses and Vowel Movements.

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