The Carom Club
Downtown's first—and only—fine dining billiard hall to open March 11
"Look around you—what do you notice about my place?" Ramona Biddle asks as she shows me into the combined dining room, bar and billiard's area. It's difficult to pinpoint where I should start. Ramona, a professional billiards player-cum-restaurateur, has spent the last nine years dreaming up every square inch of the Carom Club, right down to the bathroom countertops (a creamy orange stone in the men's room, semitranslucent blue aventurine for the ladies).
Despite the massive gutting, construction and detailing work that's been done on the inside, I can't keep my eyes off what's going on outside. Pitched glass windows wrap around the east- and south-facing walls, which gives me the distinct feeling of floating. There are epic views of the old 1st National Bank building, Gold Street to the Southeast and the lunchtime bustle of old Route 66 one story below. It's stunning—and startling to think this was once a dormant and windowless concrete bunker of a bank.
Ramona is used to this reaction by now. "Not one white wall anywhere, that's what!" she says laughing wide-eyed and delighted. "Not one!"
Ramona Biddle is not your typical restaurant owner; and the apple doesn't fall far from the tree, because the Carom Club is far from ordinary.
The Carom Club is 9,300 smoke-free square feet in all. (But should the urge strike you, smokers can step onto an outdoor patio that looks west over Central.)
Up front there's a custom temperature-controlled wine cellar, followed by a curved black-and-gold granite bar. Twenty top-of-the-line professional pool tables line the rear two-thirds of the room. Ramona is especially proud of her 1948 streamlined chrome and dark wood Baldwin snooker table. It's one of four examples left in the world.
The dining area is designed to supply up to 180 guests with those fascinating Downtown views I can't stop staring at. Like everything else on the premises, the menu and recipes are being tailor-made to suit the builder.
"Basically, I have to write a cookbook!" says Carom Club Executive Chef Kevin McLaughlin, who flew in about six weeks ago just for this project. His credentials include an executive position at Paul K's in San Francisco and ownership of multiple food-related patents. (McLaughlin invented heat-resistant silicone food ties, for one.)
In addition to salads, flat bread wraps and New American-style entrées and desserts, the Bay Area chef is zeroing in on a small-plates menu that plays up the "entertainment factor" of food.
"It's an interactive menu that allows the guests to respond and react to the food," says McLaughlin. "The plates are designed to be played with."
This is a billiards hall, after all.
At press time, the Carom Club was slated to open on Saturday, March 11. The Carom Club is located on the northeast corner of Central and Third Street. For more information, visit www.caromclub.com.