Pool sharps love the Wreck Room Saloon in Federal Heights, where billiards-league players convene every day of the week but Friday and Saturday. There are house leagues and leagues formed under the acronyms of just about every pool association you can imagine. There are pool cues and accessories for sale, and there's even a tradition called the "Golden Balls," in which the holders of three golden billiard balls on key chains are entitled to a free beer with each visit. But if you're a holder of one of the Golden Balls, you'd better hone your pool skills, because anyone in the joint has the right to challenge you to a game — and the winner keeps the ball.
A whiteboard on one side of the Wreck Room's bar reveals the names or nicknames of the latest holders of the three Golden Balls, but their status is in jeopardy each time they show their faces.
The Wreck Room sits far enough off 92nd Avenue that on a recent Saturday night, my friend and I drove by it on the first try. But the tall sign topped with a lantern that rises from the middle of the bar's parking lot guided us in like a beacon. The bar shares its parking lot with Don Ramon's Famous Burritos, but there didn't seem to be much going on in the burrito trade that night. As far as we could tell, everyone parked there was having a drink inside the Wreck Room.
Since the leagues don't play on Saturdays, the place was relatively quiet, with just a few older gentlemen at the comfortable bar chatting about their families and sports, and a couple of guys who appeared to have just knocked off their construction jobs enjoying a few beers. Only the Belmont Stakes and HGTV played on the TVs above the bar, but no one really seemed to be watching. A pair of younger dudes headed to the back patio (which is big enough to have its own outdoor bar, though it's not always manned) for a smoke, and a few other patrons occupied one of seven billiards tables, the nice kind that have electronic scoring and specially designed lights hanging over them.
Customers are entitled to one shot at throwing a rubber ring onto a numbered hook on a wooden placard hanging above the mirrored bar. The numbers correspond to various bar specials, including a free well drink, fifty cents off anything at the bar, or a free snack from the bar vending machine. Unlucky hook 13, right in the center of the placard, requires the winner (or loser, in this case) to buy someone else a drink. My friend and I tried our hand at the game, and I impressed our bartender and all the old dudes at the bar by landing on hook 12, which earned me a free soft pretzel. Apparently, very few people actually succeed at getting a ring on a hook; I attributed my success to my superior athletic skills and height, obviously. The kitchen was out of pretzels, though, so our bartender just swapped it with a free drink, making the victory even sweeter.
Booze here is impressively cheap, and the bartender's special of the day seemed perfect for me: $3 pours of Absolut grapefruit vodka (one of my favorites, especially when it's free). Since pretzels were out, we sampled a few of the kitchen's other basic heat-and-eat options, trying out a "nacho boat" and some egg rolls. The nacho boat was straight-up yellow nacho cheese and chips, which might not be fancy, but still hits the spot when you get hungry from bar sports and drinking. The menu also includes burritos, sandwiches and all kinds of fried items: cheese sticks, mushrooms, taquitos, tater tots and even funnel cake fries. The kitchen stays open until 1 a.m. every night, and after that, the vending machine is there for sudden cravings until last call.
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There are also $4 specials on various shots and drinks nearly every night of the week, including Fireball Fridays, Tuaca Tuesdays and Tijuana Sweet Heat Sundays. Between pours of grapefruit vodka and Tuaca and Dr. Pepper (for my friend, who was very excited to have her uncommon request fulfilled), our bartender told us about the place. She explained that the bar was previously called One Leg Johnny's and then Sidekicks, but that current owners Trindy and Rob Randolph named it the Wreck Room six years ago when they took over.
The space has been renovated here and there but is charmingly old-school overall, with ’80s carpeting covered in bold neon shapes creeping up the bar and walls, and rows of rubber ducks hanging from the ceiling. The ducks are used to mark pockets in pool, a tradition that apparently started when the owners gave some ducks to friends on their pool team years ago, before they even owned the bar. Now patrons bring in ducks all the time for use in the pool leagues or to add to the decor.
It was growing late and awkward — after one of the construction workers at the bar told us we were beautiful — so we left behind the rubber ducks and Federal Heights, knowing that next time we wouldn't miss the turn into the parking lot. Future freebies awaited (my ring-toss game is strong), and we hoped to return some night when the Golden Balls would be contested over a fierce billiards match.
The Wreck Room Saloon is located at 2695 West 92nd Avenue in Federal Heights and is open from 10:30 a.m. to 2 a.m. nightly. For more information, call 303-412-0257 or visit the bar's website.