When you walk into Continental, Arlington's newest pool hall and lounge, you won't immediately notice the nine billiard tables -- your eyes will be too busy darting around the colorful room, taking in the jet-set decor: a galaxy of spaghetti lights, patterned columns painted like palm trees, giant tiki heads and two long, curving bars that sparkle with silver glitter.
This is like no other pool hall in the area.
"I went to Disneyland when I was three," explains designer Skip Przywara. "This was inspired by Tomorrowland and Fantasyland."
That's evident in the Barbarella Lounge, a small nook that features sparkly silver plastic cushions and a long, white surfboard-shaped table under dozens of colored, spun-plastic lights. An orange wall behind the main bar features modernist lines and sphere shapes evocative of space travel. Along another wall, guarded by huge stone-faced totems, is the purple-hued Exotica Lounge, where a cartoony fireplace, African masks and subtle animal prints show the influence of Disney's Small World ride as well as the artist Shag, whose paintings celebrate the '60s cocktail lifestyle. Hidden in an alcove is the lush green Tiki Room, decorated with bamboo fixtures and carved furniture salvaged from old Polynesian restaurants.
Though designers Przywara and Travis Smith talk about the Space-Age Bar, Jet-Set Dining Room and the various lounges, Continental's enormous space, which once held Pettibon's sports bar, is really one big room subdivided through the clever use of colors, columns and furniture arrangements instead of walls. The open design allows you to take in a spectrum of decors and views, no matter where you sit.
"This is travel, without the security screenings and inconvenience," Przywara says. "Travel used to be glamorous. We wanted you to feel like you're moving from place to place as you walk around."
It'll come as no shock that Continental carries a remarkable pedigree. It's owned by the folks who run Buffalo Billiards, Atomic Billiards, Bedrock Billiards and both branches of CarPool -- some of the area's finest pool halls -- as well as Aroma Lounge. Przywara and Travis are the owners of Good Eye, the retro-furnishing shop in Friendship Heights. Travis was the guiding force behind the decor of the other properties, including the grease-monkey chic of CarPool and the cigar-and-martini swank of Aroma.
At Continental, the competition-size pool tables, purple felt glowing under the exotic lamps, sit proudly in the center of the room. But you pay for the environment: Shooting some nine-ball will run at least $12 an hour for two people (more Thursday through Saturday), although rates are half-price before 5 and women play free all day on Mondays. Not into pool? Continental is just as welcoming to patrons who have no idea what a massy shot is. That's important, because despite all the professionals who live or work near Rosslyn, happy hour and nightlife options are few. Grab a seat on one of the vintage couches or high silver barstools and listen to the jukebox, which is filled with lounge music as well as alternative rock. There are food and drink specials from 5 to 8 during the week and 6 to 8 on Saturdays.
"You can come here for happy hour and dinner and then play pool -- it's a two-part night in the same space," owner Geoffrey Dawson says.
"Dinner at a pool hall" sounds like a sure-fire way to raise your cholesterol: Images of greasy burgers, nachos and cheese-heavy pizza dance in your head. Not so at Continental, where chef Wayne Combs, who served as chef de cuisine at both branches of Jaleo, developed a menu of tapas and sandwiches that work well for dinner or for a quick bite when it's someone else's turn to rack the balls. (Just be warned that most appetizers here are much smaller than you'd get at Bowl America's snack bar.) And it's only appropriate that you can toast the bamboo decor with swinging favorites such as a tasty mai tai.
Continental is one of the more accessible billiard halls in Northern Virginia. It's only one block from the Rosslyn Metro, and free parking is available at the North Moore Street Garage after 6.
I can't wait to bring my "Fast" Eddie Felton-wannabe friends here for a few games of pool. The tables are smooth, the cues are straight and the atmosphere is decidedly friendly. Purists might not like the colored felt, but there's plenty to like about Continental for everyone else.
-- Fritz Hahn (May 16, 2003)