Best Pool Hall: Rack ’em up, duck

Club Mallard

The abovementioned Albatross has lots of fun games, but for billiards you’ll have to hang out with a different water bird. While Club Mallard may not meet the strict definition of a pool hall, the other “pool halls” in the area are a little too bourgeois for comfort, unless of course you’re on an uptight corporate outing or a first date. And even on the first date, you’d be better off shooting stick at the Mallard, which offers three nice full-size tables and a somewhat quiet ambiance in the wood-paneled upstairs. The sticks are pretty straight, the bartenders are friendly, you can get reasonably priced — and reasonably stiff — drinks, and the crowd tends to be a mix of East Bay hipsters, blue-collar Albany locals, and Cal students, although things can get a little crowded and kooky late in the evening and on weekends. Either way, you’re not forced to stare at the bad art on the walls or be subjected to bizarre nautical themes. Table rates are $10 per hour after 9 p.m. and half price earlier in the evening, which can make for a nice bargain. Since there are only three full-sized tables, the wait can be frustrating, but you can always go back downstairs, ante up some quarters, and try your luck on one of the two smaller bar tables.

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