Anxious to sharpen our pool skills after watching The Color of Money for the 15th time, my buddy Rob and I head to SLATE (54 West 21st Street, 989-0096; $16 for two players), where I’m told they’ve discovered the perfect mix of lounge, sports bar, and pool hall. Outside, the behemoth bouncer stoops to greet Rob at eye level, informing him that “next time you gotta wear a shirt.” Rob looks down in horror, fearing he left the house only half-clad. With relief he tugs at the worn cotton of his Hanes undershirt. “This is a shirt, man.” “You know what I mean,” behemoth retorts and begrudgingly lets us by. Inside, the dress-code-conscious crowd loosens its ties and forgets about work. The warehouse-like space, curving bar, and flat-screen TV help us forget that we don’t have jobs. We polish off a Guinness ($5.50) and a perfect triple-decker grilled-cheese sandwich ($7) while watching the players from elevated seats overlooking the room. Well-fed, we set up on one of the 40 tables, where we get ready to display our skills. Shortly after the break shot we’re reminded that we don’t have any. I mention my window theory: One plays best after drinking between three and five beers, when confidence is at its peak.

Our next challenge is the six-step entrance process—bouncer, elevator, stairs, more bouncers, cover, revolving doors—at PRESSURE (Bowlmor Lanes, 110 University Place, 255-8188). It reminds me of fortified think tanks and Dick Cheney. Once through the checkpoints we rest our weary frames on one of the plush red couches, where we shoot tequila ($7.25), chase it with Bass ($6.50 ), and take a look around an area formerly filled with tennis courts. The mazelike space has the makings of an airport terminal (lounge-style seating, double-sided bar, and 60-foot-high ceiling) with a touch of the adolescent arcade scene. Plastic indentations in the walls serve as seats and allow plenty of room to shoot stick. The funky environs and our ever sharpening pool skills please us greatly. But at $27 an hour for the table I’d like to be carried home in a rickshaw and hand-fed grapes at the end of the night.

Well past the five-drink window and in the mood for some layman’s pool, we stumble down the cavernous entrance of FAT CAT BILLIARDS (75 Christopher Street, 675-6056), a dark, anonymous space with low ceilings, warped cues, and dust-covered display windows—the type of joint our grandfathers might’ve hustled. A few solitary players practice trick shots and sip beers. We eye an older gentleman who might be seeking shelter from a marital dispute; he plays well. Very well. With Red Stripes ($3.50) in hand we wander through a room full of open tables and settle on one toward the back where the best players, hidden by shadows, line the walls. Unfortunately—for us—there are no stylish distractions and loud music on which to blame our poorly calculated shots. But at $3.75 an hour each we can play till we’re sharks, or until the sun rises, whichever comes first.