The Palace, a classic Missoula rock dive bar, officially reopened as a billiards hall called Three in the Side last month.

The bar is stocked with eight brand-new pool tables surrounded by light and welcome renovations.

Stephen Simpson, the president of Praha Inc. and a pool player himself, went for four 7-foot coin-operated tables and four 9-footers for rent by the hour.

They were manufactured by Diamond Billiard Products of Jeffersonville, Indiana, which provides tables for sanctioned tournaments. They're seen as "the benchmark for quality" in a pool table, Simpson said. Underneath the blue felt, they're equipped with a leveling system that can "achieve a much higher standard of integrity" keeping things rolling straight. The narrower pockets might at first be a bit of a challenge for beginners, but welcome for advanced players, he said.

Simpson hopes to have league teams in the future, and host tournaments for 9-ball, 8-ball and bank pool within the next month.

Three in the Side is the only billiards hall downtown and players seem to have noticed — Simpson said during peak hours in the evening on Wednesdays through Saturday, it can sometimes get competitive finding a table.

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The Palace was a full-fledged pool hall until 2007, when new owners purchased the complex of bars, which includes the Badlander, the Golden Rose, the Locals Only bar and restaurant and the Savoy Casino. At the Palace, they kept some tables and shared the space with DJ nights and live music, particularly heavier bands and hip-hop acts.

They closed the Palace last winter, looking to give each of their bars a different identity. Customers and musicians have inquired with Simpson about having music again, and he's been steering them upstairs to the Badlander.

Renovations distinguish Three in the Side from the Palace of old while keeping its overall feel. The walls are now a light blue instead of the previous all-black interior. Tiled carpet now lines the previously exposed concrete floor.

In an unplanned bonus, Simpson said the sound-proofed ceiling has an interesting "dampening effect" on the classic clacking sound of a break, making it quieter than you'd expect.

Another bonus for players is the elbow room. Following the game's rule of thumb, each table has 6 to 7 feet of space in each direction, so players "don't ever have to compromise the shot," Simpson said.

Anyone who's visited the Palace in years past will greatly appreciate the improvements to the facilities, whose previous condition was worthy of worst bathroom emeritus status. Among other fixes, Simpson and company redid the stalls and the floors.

If you're wondering about the name, it refers to a shot that Simpson loved to play: a three-rail bank shot in the side pocket. When he'd call it, he'd shorten it to "three in the side."