In a weird sequence of events revolving around my work, I found myself with a free trip to New York City for February 8th-10th. I decided to extend my time there and head out on the 5th instead to see what I could see in the big apple.
I arrived uneventfully at LaGuardia and found my car service driver who quickly revealed by example that I could in no short amount of time be able to drive in New York City. Wow. After checking into my hotel and getting some food from the next door deli, I grabbed my cue and hopped on the nearest subway towards Amsterdam Billiards. After only 1 wrong turn at the top of the stairs, I corrected my direction and found the place to be jam packed. It was Thursday around 8pm and nearly all 21 of their 9-foot gold crowns were taken. I talked to the counter guy and got a table off the corner. Immediately to my left I saw Hunter Lumbardo practicing and two tables away from him was Tony Robles giving a lesson. I put my cue together and tossed the balls out on the table. I wasn’t really playing so much as observing the rest of the room while I lazily shot balls around the table. My initial reaction had several pieces:
- 1) Every table has a ball return, and each tray comes with a measle cue ball.
- 2) Like every other pool room, there’s a wide variety of characters.
- 3) Like the rest of the New York, people are always close to you.
- 4) At least half of the serious players I know in St. Louis couldn’t play here because of the noise/distraction level.
- 5) Look at all these people paying $10/hr on 9-foot tables – I wish we had one of these.
There was a jukebox or some sort of house music playing, but it wasn’t blaring. It was a nice volume, just above background music. The table I was on had larger pockets, but nothing outrageous. A nice size for the average player and good-time seeker, but most serious players would consider them buckets. A few hours later I decided to head back to the hotel and get some rest for the next day.
That Friday I was to meet up with a friend, who was also visiting NY for other reasons, at Steinway Cafe and Billiards (website outdated). Our hopes were to play on the 10-foot table where Earl Strickland and Efren had played earlier in the year, but after arriving there I learned they no longer had the table. I sat and talked with Manny, one of the owners, for a while and waited for my friend. We talked a little about the scene differences and general pool stuff. He informed me that TruTV was filming a reality show there based on a character: Finnegan; a tournament director and action player. TruTV actually came in and painted the place, hung cameras and some other house-cleaning/preparation things. Alan arrived and we had lunch, then hopped onto the only Diamond table they had. Again, measle cue ball – and again $10/hr – and again 20+ 9-foot tables. I didn’t particularly play well (at all), but the railbirds and other players around us were too darn entertaining. Or it could’ve been the giant Mexican Coffees we were drinking. Who knows. About 5 hours later we quit playing, then order dinner and watched as the room filled with players of all calibers. There was a tournament the next day (sold out a week or more in advance), so people were there to practice, I expect. Alan and I met up with his friends and spent the evening at a little neighborhood bar in Brooklyn. Afterwards, I hopped a train back to Manhattan where I immediately hopped another train on down to Amsterdam Billiards for a nightcap.
I got one of the newly recovered tables up front this time and a few minutes later some random guy asked to play a little bit, we did – and I won bragging rights. However, the neat part of the night was that the table next me was Alison Fischer of NYCGrind. A few racks later I walk over, and she beats me to the punch: “Are you Johnny?”. We chit chat for a while and I meet a few other locals, including Charles the photographer (sorry, I can’t remember his last night at the moment – but he shoots a lot of NY pool events). She’s finishes her wine, we part ways, I close out my tab and head back to the hotel for a sleep of the dead.
Saturday I wake up quite later than expected and finally go out for breakfast around noon-ish. But I settled on a slice of new york style cheese pizza from a corner restaurant instead. It was cheesy, greasy and decent – but nothing overwhelming. From there I walk around Manhattan for a several hours. I literally just walked and turned corners when I felt like it. If I saw an interesting looking building down that way – that’s the way I’d go. I “stumbled” into Times Square, Radio City Music Hall, NBC Studios, Rockefller center and central park, among others. Then I realized I was late to meet Alan to head out to Long Island for Gail and Tony Robles’ housewarming party. I hop on a train back to the hotel, quickly change and hop another train out to Jamaica; where I catch the LIRR out to Wantaugh (sp?). From there I grab a taxi ($6) right to Gail’s front porch. I walk in and quickly find Gail running around like a crazy person trying to be the absolute best hostess that ever existed – and she did a damn fine job of that. I was greeted with a big hug and excitement and was immediately introduced around. After handing off the bottle of rum I brought I found my way downstairs to the pool room where I joined Alan, Tony and host of other New Yorkers: Michelle Li, Neslihan Gurel, William Fuentes, Alison Fischer (again), Rys, July, Ron Mason (of Gotham City Technologies), Joe Torres and several others I can’t recall at the moment.
We spent the night playing ring games, target pool, then finally a game called “Killers”. It’s a group-based game where your only objective is to make a ball. One shot, one stroke, shoot any ball. The secondary objective is to also play safe against the incoming player so they don’t have a shot. If you don’t make your ball, you get a strike. 3 strikes and you’re out. Everyone buys in with $5 or $10, winner take all. Very interesting game, a lot of fun – and way more exciting for a group of players than a traditional ring game.
After some unsure travel times, we required a ride from Tony back to the LIRR, where William, Nes, July and myself headed back to Manhattan. I went back to the hotel and prepared for Sunday.
Sunday I met up with my other work people and we walked around all day. I also got to meet up with some highschool friends we checked out the Empire State building, the Flatiron building and Cheslea Market. I watched the premiere of The Walking Dead and considered going back out, but finally decided to sleep instead.
Monday was more Manhattan exploration which primarily included Obscura (from the SciFi show: Oddities) – then back to midtown for the Lego store, Nintendo World and a few other places I can’t remember. That evening was the award ceremony for work after which I changed back into pool player clothes and went to check out Society Billiards. This place was neat – it’s in the basement of a building and I feel like it used to be a speakeasy back in the 20’s; then a gentleman’s club until it became a pool room. It’s very dark, with the required red neon lighting at the bar. But, the whole room was filled with 9 foot diamond tables. Again, measle cue balls and again $10/hr. It’s marketed as an “upscale pool hall”, which I can believe by the rest of the prices. It wasn’t very populated though, but I suppose it was after midnight on a Monday, so… I enjoyed my drink and played various games. Table played great, despite somewhat of a space issue on one side. I packed up, bought a shirt and chatted with the staff a little while before heading back to the hotel.
Tuesday I checked out and left my bags there for a while, since my flight wasn’t until 6pm, I had all day to kill… so I went back to Amsterdam, played a little bit then decided to explore Union Square in the daylight. I’m glad I did, because I found an amazing store to suit all of my darkside: Gothic Renaissance. A great collection of things black, silver and gothic. I bought a shirt and unfortunately nothing else, then continued to walk around a bit before finally heading back to the hotel to pick up my bags and head back to St. Louis.
Upon my return I realized that my short time in New York had incredibly spoiled me… I have yet to not miss the culture and environment every time I walk into a “pool room” here. I have to go back and can’t wait until I do.