Gold Crown is one of the few places where you can play a decent game of pool and not empty your wallet buying some light beer.
STORY | RICHIE BOZEK
PHOTO | RACHEL OWENS
A lot can change over a 12-year time period.
In Harrisonburg, you don’t have to go far to notice that restaurants have come and gone, roads and living complexes are continuously built and added on to. The list could go on, but you get the point.
Gold Crown Billiards Bar & Grill is no different.
“Over the years it was a pool hall, what you’d consider an old-school pool hall,” owner Kris Mele says. “You’d come in here on a Thursday night, it’d be six old dudes playing pool in here, smoking, gambling, doing all that kind of stuff. It’s not like that now at all. The pool part is only half of what we do.”
Despite changes and adaptations over the years, there’s still one thing that’s stayed consistent about Gold Crown — the pool hall vibe, which comes from Mele himself.
Mele is a JMU (’02) alumnus, whose personal connection to Gold Crown began much earlier than his purchase of the venue 12 years ago.
“I grew up in an old, smoky, gambling pool hall,” Mele says. “Right on the North Carolina border in the middle of nowhere.”
During his college years, Mele took the roughly 10-mile drive over the North Carolina border to attend North Carolina State University. However, he dropped out to focus on work before moving to Harrisonburg to attend JMU in 2000.
Mele packed more than his textbooks when coming to Harrisonburg — he also brought his love of the game. One of the first things he set out to do was to find a local pool hall, but it was a task easier said than done. His search eventually led him to Gold Crown, tucked away on Chestnut Ridge Drive.
“At that time I was a pool junkie, that’s what I did,” Mele says. “When I moved here, this was the first place that I looked for. It took me a month to find it. Back then, there was no Copper Beech … so if you didn’t know Harrisonburg, you never found this place.”
JMU has plenty of hangout spots on campus, but being older than the majority of his peers, Mele spent much of his free time at local spots around Harrisonburg. Gold Crown became his go-to.
“I probably did 90 percent of my [school] work sitting in here,” Mele said. “I’d come in here, play pool for awhile, do some work, play pool, do some work.”
Some of Mele’s staff also had a connection with the venue before becoming immersed in its operations.
“I was coming in here for years before I started working here,” bar manager Laura Morris says.
One of the more notable venue changes over the years is in the area that Morris works closest with — the bar.
When Mele first bought Gold Crown, the bar served no more than five beers, a number that’s now close to 30. The venue also received its liquor license last May.
“It’s almost always something new with that … especially learning about different beers and things like that, which is really interesting to me,” Morris says.
Along with the bar, Gold Crown has also cooked up more dining options.
“Oh, did you get Kevin?” Morris asked Mele midsentence, who nodded and tossed a chicken breast onto the grill behind the bar.
When Mele first started they only served frozen foods. Twelve years later, everything is homemade from soups and quesadillas, to its staple barbecue.
According to Morris, food has been emphasized for Gold Crown over the last two years. During the spring and summer, Mele also sets up barbecue at Tractor Supply Co. and events such as the Green Valley Book Fair.
And knowing what their visitors want as soon as they walk in isn’t out of the ordinary. Both Mele and Morris noted the atmosphere resembles that of the sitcom “Cheers.”
“Everyone kind of knows everyone, which plays well for us,” Morris says.
Events vary from pool leagues, to frisbee golf tournaments and live acoustic music.
One of Mele’s biggest challenges is keeping up with trends that attract customers, which is especially prominent with students.
“That’s a full time job in itself,” Morris says. “There’s so many new places popping up around Harrisonburg, so always trying to keep up with that and doing new things.”
With all the changes Gold Crown — and Harrisonburg — has seen, one thing remains consistent: Mele and his staff will work to provide the best Gold Crown they can.
“I don’t like doing anything half-ass,” Mele says. “This is my place, this is just what I do. These are my people.”