SILVER SPRING'S booming downtown seems to be a success, especially if you believe that the purpose of the much-vaunted "new urbanism" is actually to turn close-in suburbs into open-air shopping malls full of chain stores and restaurants.
But development has brought some good things to Silver Spring, especially in the nightlife department: the family-friendly Mayorga Coffee Roasters, a coffeehouse with live music and cocktails; the African-flavored Izora nightclub; and an Austin Grill restaurant with live music and late-night happy hours. They join the homey Quarry House Tavern, a neighborhood fixture since the 1930s.
Pool is the name of the game at the cavernous Galaxy Billiards Cafe in downtown Silver Spring. Rufino Montes, at left, of Hyattsville takes his best shot at the pool hall, which features 27 tables and numerous televisions.
(Photos Rich Lipski -- The Washington Post)
Downtown Silver Spring's latest addition is Galaxy Billiards Cafe (8661 Colesville Rd., No. A-104, Silver Spring; 301-495-0081), which occupies 15,000 cavernous square feet on the lower level of the old City Place Mall. (It's easier, though, to enter from Ellsworth Avenue -- one of the development's main shopping drags.) The name might seem familiar, as owner Tak Yoon runs another Galaxy in nearby Langley Park.
By the numbers, Silver Spring's Galaxy is truly impressive: 27 beautiful Brunswick tables; a 60-foot bar snakes down one side of the room; 35 36-inch televisions are strategically placed overhead; and a huge projection screen broadcasts key sporting events near a pair of dart lanes. There's plenty of room for happy-hour crowds, or the groups that hang out here before or after movies at the nearby AFI Silver Theatre or Majestic theaters.
While it won't win any awards for design -- a sea of green felt, televisions, cherry-colored walls and exposed pipes overhead, Galaxy looks "nice," more than anything else -- that's not really the point.
There's room between tables for tricky shots, as well as clear sightlines so you can watch your basketball game from almost anywhere and plenty of high tables scattered throughout the billiards and bar areas.
Pool halls really are the great equalizers -- Galaxy fills a need by attracting a mix of black, white and Latino pool players and sports fans, and serves home-style empanadas alongside burgers and neon-orange "galactic wings" on its menu. (Skip the wings, but the beef empanadas are pretty tasty.) Service can be a little chaotic if generally friendly, and managers regularly cruise the room, asking how everything is going.
Happy hour is a great time to visit; from 3:30 to 7, deals include $2.50 pints and $7 pitchers of domestic beer, with imports running a little bit higher, and some discounted appetizers. Pool costs $8 an hour for one player, $12 for two, $14 for three and $15 for four. (Add a buck per hour on weekends.) Get practicing -- there are plans afoot for regular tournaments and weekly leagues.
Seemingly destined to be Silver Spring's sports bar and pool hall of choice, Galaxy is worth a visit -- especially if you're looking to watch the big game and shoot pool in a smoke-free environment.
NEW AT ELEVENTH STREET
Clarendon has also been urbanizing itself in recent years, adding a number of new pedestrian-friendly stores and restaurants. The difference between Arlington and Silver Spring, though, is that Clarendon already had a thriving bar scene. Young professionals flock to the Clarendon Ballroom, Clarendon Grill, Whitlow's on Wilson and Iota for live music and mingling (not always in that order) or watch sports at Mister Days. For the most part, the crowd -- and the atmosphere -- is pretty interchangeable from place to place.
In mid-October, the chic-looking Eleventh Street (1041 N. Highland St., Arlington; 703-351-1311) replaced Cafe New Delhi at 11th and North Highland streets, and the new lounge and bar is like nothing else for blocks around. Paintings by local artists hang on blood-red walls, and cut-glass chandeliers reflect slivers of light around the long, narrow room, showing off the gold wallpaper that edges the ceiling. Patrons sit on crushed velvet sofas and loveseats, low '70s-style chairs or on stools around the bar, listening to down-tempo music.
The vision, explains owner and general manager Rich Roberts, was "something more like locations in the East Village of New York," where co-owner Tessema Getachew lived for a few years. (The two have known each other since seventh grade.) "Clarendon is starting to develop into more of an inner city, and it needed a place like this -- less of a sports bar, more like your living room," Roberts says.
This may sound a bit too affected -- though Eleventh Street is directly across the street from Mister Days, home of the Redskins cheerleaders on Monday nights -- but Eleventh Street has a great low-key vibe that seems free of pretensions. As with the rest of the neighborhood's bars, there's a crush of singles and couples on weekend nights, so it's best to visit on weeknights, when there's a chance to stretch out on those sofas and take advantage of the specials -- $2 rail cocktails on Wednesdays, or half-price bottles of wine with the purchase of an entree on Monday and Tuesday. The Mediterranean-French menu is wide-ranging, from grilled almonds and spicy chick peas to head-on shrimp, quail and steak frites.
Roberts admits Eleventh Street has made some concessions since opening. A flat-screen television now hangs behind the bar, but Roberts insists, "We will not play sporting events. And we will not be playing [the TV] every night. We'll play movies -- martial arts flicks, some black-and-white, maybe "Casablanca" or Alfred Hitchcock."
In the future, he plans to expand the draft beer selection -- which currently features the strong ale Maredsous 8, made by Belgian monks.
But there's not much else I'd change about Eleventh Street -- Clarendon needed a cosmopolitan bar with a decent wine list and comfortable seating that feels like the neighborhood's fashionable new date spot.