Pool party

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Located behind dark windows in the stone, corkboard-like exterior of a Westerville strip center, Cushion's Billiards is unsuspectingly refreshing. The large, boxy pool hall and lounge offers standard-issue ambiance, but it wins patrons over with kindly service and ultra-thrifty billiards and beverages.

Cushion's got its start 19 years ago when other parts of Westerville were still dry. One of the area's eldest drinkeries, it has developed a longstanding crew of regulars despite the area's Anti-Saloon-Leaguers history.

"I don't know what it is, we're all just really close," said bartender Jessie Cantrell. "I met my husband here."

Cantrell, like most of the staff, needs two hands to count how long she's worked there.

Generous drink specials ensure bartenders stay busy and patrons stay happy. All alcohol is half-off for the daily happy hour - that means $1.50 domestic pints and $3 Jager bombs - and weekly specials kick in during the evening, like Tuesday's $2 Long Islands and margaritas or Friday's $3 import bottles.

If the 24 pool tables weren't a tip-off, billiards are the bar's main course. Cushion's features five seven-foot tables ($1 per game) and an assortment of eight- and nine-foot tables ($4 a person per game). The bar hosts tournaments on Mondays and leagues several nights of the week.

Pool shark or minnow, it's hard to resist picking up a cue on Monday and Wednesday, when full-sized tables are free to play all day and night. The bar area gets packed on Sundays, when drinks and pool are half-off all day.

Cushion's long, L-shaped bar offers plenty of space to gather around. The pool hall's wood-paneled walls come littered with bar signs, trophies and modest-sized TVs. Tall tables and high-backed stools wrap around the bar area, and it's not uncommon for neighborhood folks to nestle in just for a drink. Besides felted-table games, the bar offers Golden Tee, NASCAR pinball and several electronic dartboards.

Contrary to logic, a few stiff drinks seem to improve stick-handling, or at least it makes you think so. The cherry Kool-Aid-tasting Cushion's Club ($4.75) is a popular summer sip. Cushion's signature shot - a fruity washdown with lots of 151 called Boot to the Head ($6.50) - has a dastardly kick and a suiting two drink cutoff.

In addition to a basic selection of bottled domestics and imports, the bar serves up some finger food. Jalapeno Poppers ($5.50) and cheeseburgers ($3) are secondary to a small selection of above-average pizzas and subs.