It never entered my mind to put an evening of shooting pool at the top of my entertainment list. Not until I stumbled across CJ’s Billiard Palace in Lakeview Shopping Center at Gaston and Garland. On the one hand, it’s odd that someone who hasn’t played pool in 20 years would suddenly be taken by a local billiard room. On the other hand, this isn’t just a neighborhood pool hall. With over 13,000 square feet, it is indeed a “palace” – one of the largest billiard rooms in Texas – and its reputation among professional pool players extend all the way to Germany and the Philippines. This is not your standard pub with a pool table and dart board.

CJ’s is the place you’d sniff out if you were a pool enthusiast passing through town, looking for a good game. Even sports and film celebrities pop into CJ’s now and then. And if you wandered in at midnight, you’d find the place packed with pool players – perhaps some waiting for a table. It’s not unusual to find the billiard room still bustling on a weekend morning at 5 a.m.

CJ’s reputation is justified, partly because it boasts 39 pool tables of six different varieties: 8 foot, 9 foot, 10 foot, coin operated snooker, and the rare billiard table (no pockets). Equally compelling is the fact that CJ’s is owned by one of the best pool players in the world, CJ Wiley, a 31-year-old Lakewood resident who’s been burning up the professional pool circuit for five years.

Wiley won the 1996 World Open Billiards Championship held recently in Santa Rosa, Calif., and took home $87,500. He was among 32 professional men players and 48 professional women players to compete in the week-long tournament. Wiley defeated Germany’s top ranked Oliver Ortmann in the men’s finals and then beat the winner of the woman’s tournament, Vivien Villarreal of San Antonio. He also teamed up with Lori Jon Jones, the Women’s Professional Billiards Association’s 1995 Player of the Year, to win a mixed doubles competition.

Three years ago, he took over the former Champs Billiards and transformed it into his world class billiard room. With CJ at the helm, the billiard room draws not only ordinary folks looking for a good game of eight ball, but also top ranked professionals who come to compete in tournaments. CJ is usually one of the entrants in these tournaments, which pack in throngs of spectators. The upcoming professional tournament (April 10-14) will even have a camera crew filming the finals for Prime Sports Network.

Occasionally, CJ’s hosts small tournaments for non-professionals. The next tournament will be held March 10 and is limited to 32 entrants.

Hollywood movies often paint a seedy image of pool halls, but CJ’s is so squeaky-clean and respectable that even a mother could love it. In fact, CJ’s own mother co-owns the place. You can spot CJ, his mother and his wife at the billiard room just about any night.

One of the most curious aspects of CJ’s is that it draws a big non-pool playing crowd – the trivia junkies. They come to play a national trivia game via on-line computers stationed at the bar. The game poses Trivial Pursuit-style questions with multiple choice answers. CJ’s doesn’t charge for play, and awards monthly prizes for the top three scores. The bar-full of trivia players can be every bit as competitive as the billiard room on a tournament day.

In addition to the full service bar, CJ’s has a café serving burgers, fries, chicken, soup, pasta and more until 4 a.m. On weekends, the billiard room is open 24 hours a day, and on weeknights, it shuts down at 4 a.m. So whether you’re looking for a game of pool or trivia, or just a bite to eat, you’ll find it ‘round the clock at CJ’s Billiard Palace.

If you’ve ever had the itch to play pool, a stop at CJ’s is a must. Even if you don’t play, it’s worth coming by just for a glimpse of serious pool action.

CJ’s Billiard Palace is located at 7328 Gaston at Garland (near Blockbuster). Hours are 8 a.m.-4 a.m. weekdays; 24 hours a day on weekends. Day pool rates are $1.25 per person per hour from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Night rates (after 5 p.m.) vary according to the number of people playing; from $2-$3 per person per hour. Happy hour beer specials run daily from 5-7 p.m.

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