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There's nothing like playing pool in the backroom of a neighborhood dive -- I've got a soft spot for quarter-operated tables in smoky rooms -- but the striking Orange Ball Billiards has raised the bar for D.C. area pool halls.
The spacious former furniture store is filled with rows of gorgeous Brunswick Gold Crown pool tables, all 28 of which are covered in smooth, championship-quality Simonis cloth. Forget the scuffed and stained tables at your local saloon: These babies are kept in tip-top shape because Orange Ball hosts tournaments on the regional pro-am Tiger Pool Tour, which offers thousands of dollars in cash prizes. Sticks are straight and balls run true, so if you scratch while trying to drop a ball into the corner pocket, you have no one to blame but yourself.
Pool is the focal point, but Orange Ball also serves as an above-average sports bar. More than 40 televisions of varying sizes cover the walls, including several huge projection screens that are put to good use for pay-per-view boxing events. Eight dartboards hang on the walls. Groups of leather couches and love seats are arranged for lounging around the room. Bartenders are quick, even when crowds surround the circular bar, and a number of nightly specials means drinks are almost always on the cheap side. Too bad food isn't a strong point.
You'd think billiards, darts and dozens of TVs would be enough of a draw, but Orange Ball has more activities scheduled than the summer session at the local rec center. The kickball crowd comes by for friendly (if noisy) beer pong tournaments on Tuesdays. (Games start at 9, but teams generally arrive earlier for "practice" at 7.) Wednesday's 9-ball tournament brings out professionals and amateurs; the only requirement for entry is the $20 fee.
Poker players can enjoy a few hands of Texas Hold 'Em from Saturday through Wednesday. Trivia geeks get their game on Tuesday nights. Dart and 8-ball leagues call Orange Ball home on Wednesdays.
On weekends, dancers take over a section of the floor around the dart lanes as a DJ spins hip-hop, Top 40, salsa and reggae, and on the last Saturday of the month, the Fiesta Latina adds merengue, reggaeton and salsa to the mix, along with margarita specials.
Of course, this is a pool hall, and so it attracts groups of young men that hang out and occasionally get rowdy -- that's why you'll find dress codes and burly security guards with metal detectors at the front door Fridays and Saturdays. But Orange Ball's positives -- pool tables, beer pong, poker and plenty of televisions -- make this a place to consider the next time you want to play billiards or watch a game.
Outta the Way Cafe
17503 Redland Rd., Derwood
A neighborhood institution for nearly two decades, the Outta the Way Cafe is as hidden as its name suggests, tucked into the rear of a strip shopping center off Muncaster Mill Road. But stop in on a Friday night and you might have a hard time finding a bar stool -- and a hard time finding anyone younger than 30 sitting on one.
On Friday and Saturday nights, the attraction is cover bands that focus on music from the '60s and '70s -- think classic rock renditions of "Sunshine of Your Love," "Secret Agent Man" and "Love Me Two Times" -- or rocking blues musicians, though you'll also get singer-songwriters playing Jimmy Buffett and the Gin Blossoms. Bands set up in the red-walled dining room, where boomer-age customers sit at tables and watch supper-club style, though the music carries through the stained-glass windows that separate the restaurant from the dimly lit bar. (You don't have to pay a cover charge if you're just having a drink.)
During football season, the bar is filled with Pittsburgh Steelers fans watching their team on the 11 televisions, including two huge eight-foot screens. "It's just like being on the South Side of Pittsburgh on Sundays," co-owner Brian Marshall boasts.