It’s impossible to pass the corner of East Franklin and 5th and not see the vast expanses of green felt beckoning from inside Greenleaf’s Pool Room. Owner and real life pool shark “Carpet” Jim Gottier has created a space that both harkens back to the golden days of the pool hall while elevating the game to its proper place in the 21st century by incorporating a sophisticated yet accessible lunch and dinner menu with a top-notch craft cocktail program.
On a recent visit to Greenleaf’s we got a chance to chat with Jim who gave us a few much needed tips on our game and talked to us more about the history and culture of the game he’s dedicated his life - and his establishment too. Meanwhile, Phil Boyle, Greenleaf’s Head Bartender, mixed up a few rounds of cocktails inspired by one of the great pool players.
How did you get into bartending?
My first bar gig was at Wonderland(!) in 2005, so just over 11years. I had been working in restaurants and Hotels for about 5 years, when Chad who was a friend and favorite bartender, called up one day asking if I would want to work for him at Wonderland, which had opened in December of the prior year. I jumped at the opportunity because I had always had a great respect for those behind the bar and was lucky to learn from one of Richmond’s greats.
What’s your favorite thing to drink?
I went through lots of ‘phases’ as a drinker. Dirty Martinis back in the day. I used to be a sucker for a proper Manhattan before dinner. A Hoppy IPA paired with a single malt scotch after work. Just about anything Mattias Haglund put in front of me. Likewise with the amazing bar staff at Saison! Back in the day, Van Gogh double espresso Vodka-that was my guiltiest pleasure.
These days if I’m sipping on anything at work, it’s usually a Mexican Coke with a jigger of Orgeat added—cuz Restaurant people can’t just drink normal things!
What’s the vibe/atmosphere at your bar?
Greenleaf’s is like many Richmond places in that each night has its own vibe. During the week it’s pretty chill with a lot of neighborhood regulars. Weekends the cool kids come out either pre-gaming it or to shoot some pool after dinner or with a group of friends, so it’s busy, loud and hyper. Lots of turnover between the bar and the pool tables, so we do our best to make an impression and educate everyone on the cocktails as much as possible in a brief amount of time.
What’s the neighborhood like?
We’re located at the bottom of the Hotel John Marshall-which is now full of Graduate and Medical students as well as young professionals, much like the other converted buildings in the neighborhood. Pasture, Julep’s and Rappahannock are only a few blocks away, as well as stalwarts like Capital Ale House and Penny Lane Pub and some new additions like Belle and James and the Kabana rooftop bar which just opened. It’s quickly becoming a new destination area to have a great meal, drinks and enjoy some activities all within a 5block radius.
What makes your bar unique?
The slate bar! Our owner(s?) Jim and Andrea put a great deal of thought and design into this space and my favorite is the repatriated slate from old pool tables to a bar top
What’s your favorite part about working there?
Everyone says the people, right? Well, I have to agree, and we have great customers, but will add that the Motley Crue of a staff that we have is what makes my nights enjoyable. We have people from all over the states, with all sorts of backgrounds, From Jim and Andrea on down. When you truly love the people you work with and trust them wholeheartedly, there’s nothing that can happen during the course of a service that you can’t handle.
What’s a good night look like for you? What are people ordering?
Good nights come often. The customers are curious and easily engaged and in the mood for something different. Since the bar crowd is usually one round and done or to a pool table, it’s our job at the bar to make a first great impression for the Pool Room. I’ll make everyone something they want-assuming we have the ingredients-and do my best to put forth our vibe of an Upscale Pool Room.
Fridays and Saturday nights our the big nights here and I’ll probably make 50 Old Fashioneds if I’m working the service side of the bar. Lots of classic cocktails on those nights as well as some of our original creations. I really enjoy the variety of those nights where I can make anything from a Negroni with Cynar to a Fernetaboutit to a House Paloma.
What’s your favorite menu item / cocktail pairing?
I find myself often recommending our House Made Deviled Eggs paired with a Rye Old Fashioned. It sounds weird, I know, but it’s a fantastic combination!
Can you share a Belle Isle creation with us? What inspired it?
We have a lot of fun at Greenleaf's naming our drinks in tribute to pool's lore. Famous historic players, obscure, all but lost to history hustlers, and (of course) long gone Richmond pool halls all find their way onto our menu. Our Belle Isle cocktail is called the "Jersey Red" after Jack Breit, a legendary pool hustler, big money player, and all around cool guy whom I got to see toward the end of his best years in the early 70's.
The staff had a run a couple months ago on Aperol cocktails, so when we first got wind of the Ruby Red Grapefruit Belle Isle, that was one of the first pairings that popped into my head. It being springtime right now and with the resurgence of interest in those types of refreshing Italian cordial drinks, we decided to play around with a variation on the Intro to Aperol.
- 1 oz Belle Isle Ruby Red Grapefruit Moonshine
- 1 oz Aperol
- ½ oz Fresh Lemon Juice
- 1 dash Angostura Bitters
Build in a cocktail shaker over ice. Shake and strain into a chilled rocks glass, add ice, garnish with a grapefruit twist
Recipe by Phil Boyle of Greenleaf's Pool Room
Photos by Alexander Kreher