While Chicago’s been besieged with news of dart, shuffleboard, and arcade bars, Wahib Merchant wants to remind the city of the original alternative to traditional bar life: the pool hall. After running Pressure Billiards & Cafe for 11 years at 6318 N. Clark Street in Edgewater, he plans on opening a second pool hall, Surge Coffee Bar & Billiards, around Thanksgiving at 3241 W. Montrose Avenue. Merchant’s crew started a gut/rehab of the space in March, adding a kitchen and giving the room an all-day cafe/sports bar feel. Albany Parkers know the address as where Marie’s Golden Cue operated for 48 years.
Merchant wants to fit into the same sphere as ping pong bars and others in this new batch of recreational venues where customers socialize, eat, and drink while playing games. He’s excited that Surge will feature 14 Brunswick Crown V pool tables, a 20-seat bar, and room for about 40 more seats inside a 6,000-square-foot space. During the day they’ll serve pastries and Metropolis coffee and shift to beer and cocktails at night. While Marie’s served a frozen pizza puff or two Surge has a full kitchen with a menu similar to what Merchant offers at Pressure: wings, burgers, and a spread of familiar fried bar appetizers.
They’ve also added TVs for sports fans. When Merchant began playing pool as a child with his father, he instantly fell for the sport. But he also noticed pool halls had a bad reputation with hustlers and bouts of shadiness — even “the music wasn’t that great.” While some may argue that brings character to a spot, Merchant sought out to create a space with modern amenities that would make the average customer more comfortable.
“If you didn’t shoot pool, you didn’t go there,” Merchant said of the old-school mentality.
As they renovated Marie’s Golden Cue, Merchant kept a few of Marie’s hallmarks, including the star-shaped sign that hangs outside. They also kept the gold color from Marie’s as part of Surge’s branding. Merchant knows Marie’s loyal pool players are reluctant to change. When Marie’s Golden Cue closed in March, after Merchant purchased the spot, Marie’s owner told the Tribune about how he was reluctant to install TVs. He only wanted to focus on “pure pool.”
But diversifying and drawing new customers is a necessity for all businesses, Merchant said. Bowling alleys in the suburbs asked for video gambling so they could bring back the customers they lost after the 2007 indoor smoking ban. When Merchant took over the Pressure space in 2006, he tried the old-school business model, but when the recession hit two years later, he figured he needed to make changes to survive. They added food, and eventually renovated the space in 2011.
Merchant wanted to tell Albany Park residents that he sees Surge as a community hub. He wants to host block club meetings and other civic gatherings. The space will be family friendly. There’s no opening date yet, but come back for more details in the coming weeks.