Until Edinburgh finally catches up with New York and gets itself a table tennis bar, I will continue to make do with pool. Sadly, these days I am out of practice. Since Mai Thai down at Holyrood shut down, I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I’ve troubled a baize. The odd visit to Diane’s Pool Hall was as much as I’d done until a visit to the recently re-opened Marco’s on Grove Street.
Now, I was a semi-regular here back in around 2006/07 when at my pool peak. In those days, a session on the Mai Thai table was a daily occurrence and becoming Scottish Parliament Singles Champion around about that time is a particular highlight for me. I recall with some pride beating the very skillful and now more high profile Patrick Harvie in the semis. This British pool obsession was regularly supplemented with visits to Marco’s American tables on the odd evening. Then the place shut down and student accommodation was built. It was therefore a surprise when I found out it was re-opening earlier this month, albeit in a more basement-y position.
Upon entry, it’s clear that they’ve spent a lot of money on the place. Upstairs, the bar is pretty slick – all stripped floors, copper and exposed brick walls. Around the walls there are nods to Marco’s long history in Edinburgh and I was delighted to see Little Marco at the top of the stairs. As a child in the ’80s, Little Marco’s was a regular party venue and I loved the green ball pool that went round the edge of the little bike area. It was so much better and deeper than the main ball pool, I’m sure you’ll all agree. Sadly, seeing how old Little Marco now looks was a sobering moment for those of us still clinging on to our youth. Apparently the ’80s were some decades ago. When did that happen?
Anyway, back to the 21st century. Marco’s is very much pitching itself as a pool and pizza joint, not dissimilar to the Ball Room in Morningside, albeit a much shinier version. I hope the pizzas are less greasy as well, having once experienced a Ball Room special as part of a discount voucher. Marco’s is offering a basic 11-inch pizza for £5.50 with extra toppings then 50p a throw. Seems reasonable though I haven’t tried one.
In terms of drinks, I often find these sorts of places fine, if a little uninspiring. I suppose hand-pulled real ale would look a little out of place here but a few more interesting bottles than Deuchars and Caley 80 wouldn’t go amiss. Given the American pool theme, some American craft beers would be a welcome addition. On my visit I opted for the 3-Hop lager at £3.80 a pint although you can get a number of other lagers for only £3.00 a pint. This may well attract students from the nearby Edinburgh Napier halls of residence, who I’m sure Marco’s have an eye on wooing.
However, I guess we’re not here for the beer, really. Edinburgh has far too many other options if you just want to drink decent beer. Indeed, we warmed up with a couple of Jarls in nearby Thomson’s on Morrison Street. No, let’s leave the beer (metaphorically) and to the pool hall we will go.
Downstairs, Marco’s has 18 American pool tables and we were on table 12, which felt like a ball had never troubled its smooth surface before. A virgin table, if you will. It’s £5 an hour Sunday to Wednesday and £7 an hour on the other three days of the week, which is pretty good given that you’ll hopefully be splitting it at least two ways. Being new, the tables are fantastic and I hope they are well maintained, along with the cues. There’s nothing worse than going to a pool hall and spending the first 10 minutes desperately trying to find a cue that is both straight and boasts a decent tip.
The pool room itself, in pool hall tradition, is quite dark, albeit with jazzy LED lights that change colour. But pool halls are meant to be dark – the trick is to avoid the inevitable addition of the word “dingy”. Again, let’s hope Marco’s keep it the former and don’t descend into the latter. There’s no denying it’s an impressive space and something that central Edinburgh has been lacking since old Marco’s bit the dust.
The MD, Paul Demarco, was in the bar the night we were there, pressing the flesh, and I wish him and everyone at Marco’s all the best. If they keep up their high standards, this rebirth could see the pool hall become a favourite Edinburgh institution for the second time.
So how was my pool after my previous boasting? Well, an acquaintance hammered me 6-1. That wouldn’t have happened back in the Mai Thai days. These days, I fear Patrick Harvie would make mincemeat out of me.