Cued Up

Yeah, Big Jim got his hat
Find out where it’s at
And it’s not hustlin’ people strange to you
Even if you do got a two-piece custom-made pool cue.

–Jim Croce, “You Don’t Mess Around With Jim

Got your eyes set on being a serious pool player around town? Take heed: picking one of those warped and wobbly, used and abused cues off the rack  at your local pool hall simply isn’t going to cut it. Even if you find the right cue made from the right wood, with the perfect balance that allows you to hit any shot from anywhere on the table, it still needs to look cool.

What you need is a hand-made, two-piece cue, one that you can count on to get the job done in style. How much will a good cue set you back? That depends on just how much style you want your cue to have. And in Birmingham, the only place to find those special sticks is at a neat little store on Lorna Road in Hoover called R.G. Billiards.

A pretty good amateur pool play in his own right, owner Bob Cooke originally opened his business as an antique store. However, after a few years peddling antiques around town, Cooke discovered his potential customers were more interested in his billiard hobby.

“Mainly how I got into the business is I was purchasing some things for myself and people would say,‘Where’d you get that?’ I started researching and getting a few new things in, and before I knew it, I was in the billiard business,” Cooke says. “I sold the antique side of the business out and went full-force with pool tables and pool cues.”

Cooke carries most major brands of tables, cues and accessories, but the oddities for sale around the shop make the place distinctive.  This is where Cooke’s  interest in antiques and the game of pool collide. For instance, in the back of the store is a six-foot pool table built in 1937 that comes with a top converting it into a dining table. However, what really sets R.G. Billiards apart is the collection of cues for sale.

On hand at R.G. Billiards are one-of-a-kind cues made by some of the pool world’s most sought-after makers,  including Jerry Oliver, Jacoby and Andy Gilbert, as well as David Rowell, one of Birmingham’s best players. Cooke has cues in a special room near his office. They range in price from as little as $39 to as much as several thousand dollars.

“We have a little bit of everything, but people are always looking for something you don’t have,” he says. “We carry a lot of things for the beginner, but we have a lot of equipment for the guy who wants to be as close to being a professional as he can.”

The colors and designs in his collection are fascinating, from natural-colored woods with geometric designs made from pure ivory, to wild colors — purple, for instance — to wraps made from lizard and snake skin.

During a tour of his shop, Cooke points to two cues, one priced at $400, the other one a decorative piece of art held on consignment for a potential customer (Cooke would not divulge his name) at $4,000. The difference in the two cues has nothing to do with playability. “Both play exactly the same. The only difference is you’re paying for artwork,” Cooke says.

Now that is a lot of style.

Leave a Reply