A 1948 law aimed at wiping out the scourge of billiards — by declaring pool and alcohol consumption mutually exclusive pastimes — was struck from the town code this month in a 5-1 vote by the town board.
Until now, Franklin had some unusual, even archaic, laws on the books when it came to pool halls. It prohibited swearing, trap doors, hidden stairways, panels and secret devices that could hide gambling parlors or places “where persons meet or congregate for immoral purposes.” The laws also excluded persons of “immoral character” or habitual users of intoxicating liquor or narcotic drugs from operating amusement-based businesses.
The rules also prohibited pool halls from being located in back alleys and ordered the buildings to have plate glass windows facing the street, most likely so the local lawman and nosy neighbors could peek in.
But, as Alderman Bob Scott pointed out, before casting his vote to repeal the law, Franklin in 2013 is not the same as Franklin in 1948, when the law was put in place. Scott joked that a lot of his youth was misspent in pool halls.
“I think the old ordinance is a lot like one of those old ordinances that you can’t hitch your horse to a parking meter,” Scott said.
Banning alcohol consumption in the same vicinity as pool tables simple didn’t jive with modern times.
“Folks, let’s face it, our demographics are changing,” Scott said.
But cleaning up the outdated rules on the books didn’t seem necessary until recently. It wasn’t until 2006 that it was even legal to sell alcohol in restaurants or bars in Franklin.
The antiquated law came to forefront of discussion when a private club in Franklin that serves liquor, Mixers, went to renew its town privilege license. The town realized the owners had since installed pool tables, and were forced to remove them. Meanwhile, another private club, Izaiah’s Dugout, which is new to Franklin, was looking to add pool tables until the club was shown the laws.
“We said, ‘According to the ordinance, you can’t,’” Town Manager Warren Cabe said. “You could either have a pool hall or a private club that serves alcohol, but not together.”
So, it was decided to give the whole ordinance a closer examination. Cabe said the law could affect the town’s private clubs as well as the bowling alley or any other establishment with a state alcohol permit that wanted to have some type of pool table, bowling alley, or other amusement.
Town Attorney John Henning Jr. tried to look into amending the ordinance to make it more user friendly for the clubs wanting to have both pool tables and booze, but found that to be nearly impossible. Instead, at the town’s most recent meeting, he advised aldermen to do away with the entire chapter — trap doors, alleyways, immoral characters and all.
“I cannot see any way to amend that thing and not make it incomprehensible Swiss cheese,” Henning said. “My recommendation is just to repeal chapter 112 altogether.”
The aldermen followed his recommendation and repealed the chapter.
Alderwoman Sissy Pattillo said there was not much of a reason to keep the law.
“It doesn’t bother me, it’s not like you’re going to have a brawl,” Pattillo said “I didn’t have that much problem with it.”
Alderwoman Joyce Handley echoed Pattillo’s sentiments and called the law obsolete. She added that growing up in Chicago she was accustomed to having pool tables in bars.
“I come from an area where pool tables were always in bars,” Handley said. “I don’t see any harm having a pool table where they’re having a drink. I mean, come on.”
But one alderman was steadfast in keeping the law on the books.
“No, I don’t take an issue with pool tables per say,” Verlin Curtis said. “I’m just against the spread of alcohol beverages. I don’t think we need to keep exposing more people to it and creating potential problems for our police department.”
As for Franklin Police Chief David Adams, he predicted that introducing pool tables to places where alcohol is served doesn’t necessarily mean there will be more conflicts or problems for law enforcement.
“I mean they have fights in other clubs that don’t have pool tables,” Adams said, adding, however, that a rack of pool cues within arm’s reach could mean uglier fights. “I guess you could make the argument they have more weapons.”
Rather, he was of the mindset that the law itself was outdated. But at the time it was passed it probably made sense to the residents of Franklin. Amusements plus alcohol could only equal mischief.
“My grandfather always talked about juke joints and pool halls,” Adams said. “They just had a bad reputation.”
However, the experience of restaurant manager Jeremiah Drake only reinforced the old stereotype of juke joints and pool halls. For no more than a couple of days, Drake tried having a pool table in his establishment, Mulligans Irish Pub & Grill in Franklin, when it first opened in 2008. He was not pleased with the result. In fact, he regretted every minute of it.
“We’d have someone in here playing pool and yelling the ‘f’ word at noon,” Drake said. “It was like, oh my gosh, we don’t need this. The crowd that it brings is just different.”