The owner of Surge Coffee Bar & Billiards has battled to erase pool hall stereotypes, hoping to show customers that pool can be a game the family can enjoy, not a seedy activity reserved for pool sharks or hustlers. Now, Wahib Merchant’s challenge is to show the public that pool halls can be safe during a pandemic. Earlier this week, Merchant opened his third pool hall at 3716 W. Fullerton Avenue in Logan Square.
The 11 pool tables are six feet away from each other as means of social distancing. There’s no formal governmental guidelines for pool hall safety. Merchant has been reading how restaurants have responded. His staff is masked up, as are all the customers unless they’re sitting down and eating or drinking. After a reservation — they’ve used Tock at the Albany Park location — staff cleans the balls, cues, triangles, and tables.
In Logan Square the capacity is 235 under normal circumstances. Merchant’s slashed that to 50 during the pandemic. Keeping up with government mandates, the maximum customers can stay is two hours; doctors advise against lingering in a space for too long during the pandemic. Some customers have brought in their own disinfectant wipes. At his Albany Park and Irving Park locations, Merchant says he’s only seen one customer who had problems following safety rules.
He says those customers aren’t ready to venture out in public. If they can’t abide by the rules, they can stay home until the government distributes an effective vaccine.
Permit delays prevented a planned January 2020 opening. The silver lining was that construction was considered an essential business during Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s state-at-home order and work on the building continued. Merchant and wife Kareeshma Ali eventually want to be create a place friends can hangout after dinner. They’ve brought in former Publican pastry chef Erika Chan as a consultant to create a desserts. Expect apple crisp, tiramisu and chocolate mousse in jars; items easy to eat while playing pool. The kitchen, when food service starts in a few weeks, will also serve light savory bites.
Winter is no time to put a pool table outdoors in Chicago, but Merchant may have an outdoor option for customers who want to have a few drinks. He’s thinking about putting up a few tents that could fit four to five people. These heated tents would be near the hall’s windows so customers could at least watch people playing pool indoors.
Merchant grew up in Rogers Park in is Pakistani American. He’s proud of running a minority-owned business and hopes customers are excited to support him. Surge Logan Square has taken longer than expected, but it’s finally open for anyone comfortable enough to spend time indoors.
Surge Logan Square, 3716 W. Fullerton Avenue, open 3 p.m. to 1 a.m. on Monday through Thursday; 3 p.m. to 2 a.m. on Friday; 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. on Saturday;. 10 a.m. to 1 a.m. on Sunday. Reservations coming to Tock.