Romantic. Friendly. Classic.
Romantic. Friendly. Classic.
This is how Jim Gottier, the silver-tongued proprietor of Greenleaf’s Pool Room (North 6th & Franklin) envisioned his space that opened in 2014 on the ground floor of the Residences at the John Marshall downtown. Gottier has been a purveyor of pool since he was thirteen years old, when he first went to a pool room and saw a space “…filled with guys with tattoos and sexy girlfriends; guys who stayed up all night and gambled their money…I loved the fraternity of misfits in the pool room.”
Gottier fell in love with Richmond when scouting the country for locations to build Greenleaf’s, which was named after pool player Ralph Greenleaf, who Gottier affectionately describes as “…the first truly great modern player; a charismatic champion from the 1920’s and 1930’s [who] seems to have been a bit of a tortured soul and had a vicious drinking problem.”
“Historically profound, physical beautiful, friendly people, great restaurants… this town just rocks,” Gottier said of Richmond. “We found a culture of style, of people who go out and experience the joys of life. We found beautiful architecture, a great cross section of society, and a jewel of a downtown.”
The aesthetic, atmosphere, and character of Greenleaf’s are what set it apart from anything else in the Downtown Richmond scene today.
Atmosphere and tone were two major requirements for his imagination of his RVA pool room, one that had to be as unique as its owner and clientele alike.
Much like classic television shows where the location was a character itself, (like New York City in Seinfeld, or Central Perk in Friends) destinations like Greenleaf’s allow its pool patrons to step into a place fully immersed world of both recreational activity and culture.
“I have always loved the lonesome camaraderie between players; to sit in a red leather booth in some roadhouse and listen to “Poker Paul” or “Frisco Jack” tell their stories; to catch the glint of their pinky rings as they toss back high balls, wondering if I will be picking up the check; it’s kind of a bliss,” said Gottier.
An upscale pool room, which one may say Gottier was trying to achieve (and has) with Greenleaf’s, may have seemed to be a difficult goal to achieve due to cultural perceptions about the game and its players. However, Greenleaf’s has been able to find a balance between an afternoon boilermaker binge and a date night in the big city with a bottle of wine and friendly competition.
This was important to Gottier – keeping the image of pool that he had fallen in love with alive.
“Years ago pool rooms were perceived as dens of iniquity, filled with all manner of nefariousness,” said Gottier. “To its detriment, in the past half century, pool has self-consciously fled from that image.”
Gottier himself remembers that image, daying he loved “those old dens of iniquity.”
“I love those forlorn arenas of parallel American history,” he said. “Pool should know itself, accept itself, and rejoice.”
Greenleaf’s may have found its perfect niche in Richmond, a city filled with eclectic thinkers, movers, shakers, and creators. Ultimately, though, this is still a business venture, that one has to ask and analyze, ‘how can we make you want to play pool?’
“Pools popularity has always had crests and troughs, often linked to events in mass culture,” Gottier said. “The movie The Hustler spawned my generation of pool player. Greenleaf’s manager, Jesse Rice, is of The Color of Money generation. It is hard to say where pool will go.”
But he’s cautiously optimistic, thinking the sport, or the intrigue around the game, will continue to fascinate and confound a public “tired of screens and hungry for genuine human interaction.”
Fortunately for Gottier and his wife Andrea, the response to Greenleaf’s bringing back classic touches of pool’s culture has been fantastic.
Ultimately, he can look at his room, shoot a game of straight pool by himself on Table 1, and appreciate something that Richmond didn’t have before Greenleaf’s settled downtown.
“I kind of think of our room as akin to an all day, European café,” Gottier said. “A set where high and low drama can be acted out, where a moment can be caught and everyone who comes in the door has a secret. Richmond has been an amazing place for three hundred years. It will be an amazing place long after we’re gone. I am just happy to add our name to the timeline.”