PASO ROBLES — PRHS grad Erik Skupien, class of 1989, opened Paso Robles’ first billiards and sports club recently and calls it Crimson Cue Billiard and Sports Club in honor of his alma mater. But despite all of the Bearcat memorabilia, some dating back as far as the turn of the century, Skupien hopes that everyone in the North County — kids and grown ups alike — will find his club to be a home away from home and a place to sharpen one’s skills in what he believes is a truly great and underappreciated game on the competitive level.
Skupien said, “I want everyone to feel comfortable here, even if it is all Crimson memorabilia. Greyhounds — any of our rivals — I just want them so say (indicating the enormous black and white photographs of past Bearcat teams adorning the walls), ‘Hey those are cool.’ It was a tough rivalry back in the day, although I think it might be a little more mellow now.”
When one thinks of rivalries, it brings to mind rough words being exchanged and even a potential “fist to cuffs,” but not at this place insists Skupien. His intention is not only for adults to have a place to relax and maybe watch a game on the big screen while enjoying a beer and shooting some pool, but to even have a youth academy where young kids can learn the skills of the game while in a clean and safe environment.
Recalling Carl’s Billiards, which was eventually closed down due to all the fights that would happen, Skupien remembers it being a “real rough and tumble kind of place.” According to Skupien, the city ordinance that limits grain alcohol from being served in an establishment with more that three pool tables was put in place because of Carl’s. Hence the “beer only” menu being offered at the Crimson Cue. But with more than 26 craft and bin name beers to choose from, the drink menu is far from limited.
“You know, back in the day gambling, fighting, smoking, drinking… the term ‘pool hall’ got a bad name, so that’s why I named it a billiard and sports club,” Skupien said. “I always wanted to be an instructor for pool and start a kids’ academy. My biggest goal is to get kids involved in this.”
Skupien received his certification in Chicago from the Professional Billiards Instructors Association (PBIA) in 2016 and plans to open the academy early this year.
While Skupien maintains that he wants the club to be family-oriented, he believes the grown-ups deserve some time on their own as well, which led him to reserve Friday and Saturday nights for adults only.
Just upstairs from the Bridge Sportsmen’s Center, Skupien attributes his success to not only the Bridge family but several individuals in the community who helped him along the way. According to Skupien, the road to opening the same night as the Christmas Light Parade was long and tough.
“When I started I had no idea what I was doing. I went to the university of Google and the university of YouTube to get this done,” he said. “But the City has been wonderful. The inspectors, everyone over at City Hall to the City Council and the planning department — they were wonderful.”
Even with all the community support, Skupien found himself running out of money and unable to complete the club. As fate would have it, an old friend from high school, Abigail Hatch Henderson and her mother Sandy Hatch stopped by one day just to see the place and Skupien’s progress. Hatch liked the place so much she decided help Skupien out without any intention of becoming an investor.
“I was dying inside,” Skupien said. “I was about to lose everything and just as I was heading over to Mr. Bridge to tell him I wasn’t going to be able to open, I got a call from Abby saying her mother loves the idea so much and doesn’t want you to let go, that she’s going to help cover the rent until the rest of the funds come through. She risked everything to help me out and I so much appreciated what they did that I gave them 20 percent of the club.”
The additional funds eventually did come through and Skupien was able to open, ‘by the skin of his teeth,” as he put it.
“I made so many mistakes, but I just kept getting better,” said Skupien as he looked across the cavernous hall, with exposed brick walls and nine brand new, beautifully spot-lit carillion blue, velvet-covered tables. As the sound of clacking resin balls echoed across the room, Skupien went to retrieve another peanut butter beer by the Belching Beaver Brewery from his wall of taps, only to be stopped along the way by a few fellow alumni that had come by to congratulate him and play a few games.
The Crimson Cue Billiard and Sports Club, Inc. is located at 1319 Spring St. and is open from 11 a.m. to midnight, Monday through Thursday and until 2 a.m. on the weekends.