View Full Version : Pool room or pool bar? (a short article)

Sean Murphy
10-30-2003, 01:13 PM
Pool room or pool bar?

First let me explain what in my humble opinion are the sometimes subtle sometimes blatant differences. In my Grandfathers day, what I consider to be the hay day of pool, guys got together at what my Grandpa affectionately called the “pool room” or sometimes “the league of nations“ because every nationality under the sun played there and always got along together. There they would gather to shoot a few games with buddies, socialize and maybe occasionally wager a buck or two on some strait pool, golf or 3 cushion billiards.

The pool room would typically be sort of dark with very little thought given to the ‘ambience” or the “décor”. It was functional, and that is what they counted on, nothing more. After all, you weren’t there to score a date you were there to score a billiard etc. There was no blaring music and no hotty bar maids in skin tight, black satin hip huggers in your line of sight as you were shooting on the 9. Not that I mind looking at those incredible hips and various other womanly anatomical features: hell I‘m a straight, red-blooded, American man in my 30s, I love that stuff. Nor do I mind listening to music: I’m a musician in a band for God’s sake, I love music. However, I want to know where I can go to just shoot pool like I did when it was just me a Grandpa.

The last 20 years has been hard on the ol’ pool room style billiards establishments. I remember quite fondly Saturday early afternoons at the pool room with my Grandpa. This was my reward for getting up at the crack of dawn and going downtown to shop for produce at Detroit’s famous Eastern Market. After divvying up and disbursing the 50 lbs of potatoes, 50 lbs of onions and various bushels of tomatoes, beans and other veggies amongst my Aunts, we’d ritualistically go for some pool.

When we’d walk in the sounds and the smells would hit me and I knew that I was in a special place. When my eyes adjusted to the darkness I could see a few older guys around a 12’ snooker table playing golf for $3.00 games with $.25 itches. The smoke of cigars, pipes and on even an occasional cigarette would hang right about at table lamp level. Oh, how beautiful it was but guess what?…it gets better…no jukebox, no beer, no new generation sue do punk band banging away while you shoot. It was mostly quite except for the sweet, sacred sound of billiard balls colliding and low hum of WWII veterans engaging in intermittent conversation and that ever so rare argument. This is the place I could spend hours sitting on the 100 year old solid oak church pews that perimetered the entire room.

I watched the old-timers and learned so much about not only the game but the way life was and still is to them. 85% of these guys fought fascism in WWII. Dave McNorgan was from the old neighborhood. His son and my Dad were close friends. Dave was a B-29 Pilot in the South Pacific. He was the only survivor of his crew when his plane was shot down in 1944. Mort Weiner was a cook in Europe. I learned a few Yiddish words from him. Jack Murphy, my Grandfather, was a Private 1st class in the Marine Corps in 1942 at Guadalcanal. He was decorated after his patrol was ambushed in 6 foot high elephant grass. When the dust settled there were only 2 persons alive, him and a buddy of his who was so badly injured he couldn’t walk. My Grandpa was injured as well but none the less was able to toss his crippled friend over his 6’4” 250 lb back and walk back to base through 10 miles of swamp, and jungle. He nearly lost both feet to elephantitis he suffered from the 2 day trek through the jungle mud. There are many of these stories of character from that old pool room. Many of them do not involve WWII or pool but none the less all are full of Americana and nostalgia and humanitarianism.

The old pool room was the sort of place that stays with you for a lifetime regardless of how it looks now. I took a drive out to see the old place the other day. Now days the pool room is nothing like it was. The tables haven’t been recovered in who knows how long. The miles of wonderful thick, solid oak bench seats have all been removed and sold to the highest bidder. There is only 1, 12“ snooker table where there once were 6. The warmth of the dark wood paneling that hid imperfections so well has all been gutted out down to the block walls and painted a sterile and yucky light mint greenish. In an attempt to create some sort of décor the new owners have had murals of scantily dressed women around pool tables painted on the walls in some areas. It’s all so tacky now.

What I miss the most are the guys who are no longer with us. It was nice to see Freddy Salem, Hollywood, Mort, Eliot and the others. I’m going to miss the ones who have passed. They were all a very important part of the way my young mind developed and so was that pool room.

You see, sometimes when my grandpa took me there, I was only along for the ride because I was too young to play with his group. He knew that I would have to watch. I think he also knew that observing the way people of his generation interacted with the game and each other was a priceless experience for me. He was right. I now search for a place like that. I place I can go to just shoot pool. A place where retirees gather between the hours of lunch and dinner time to socialize over this incredible, time honored game.

Listen, if you know a place like the one I describe, don’t take it for granted. Cherish it! Get to know it, but most off all support it with your patronage. The “pool bar” and the almighty dollar are driving the “pool room” to extinction. Soon there will be no trace of a pool room left except for in old, black and white nostalgia photos that ironically hang on the walls of pool bars.

10-30-2003, 01:33 PM
Well Sean that's an interesting article.I grew up in the NJ-NY area and when I was a kid we were able to watch some great local and professional players.I remember one room where the counter man, would tell us to be quiet or he would throw us kids out.There was no music or talking allowed when the older guy's were playing.There are a lot of rooms now in the NJ-NY area that cater to a young crowd, and that's ok with me,but if the music is to loud, I don't go there anymore.I have found one really nice room in NY state that's real nice and on Saturday's there's a nice bunch of guy's in my age bracket (50's) that love to play.
The music is in the backround and I also like the new nonsmoking law, so the room is perfect for me.
Take care!

Ralph S.
10-30-2003, 06:07 PM
That was a very good article Sean. Sometimes the days of yesteryear always seem the the best. On a side note though, next time try to break a long post into more than one huge paragraph. This makes them easier and even more pleasant to read, especially when they are good stories like this was.

Sean Murphy
10-30-2003, 06:31 PM
Hey Ralph, thanks for the tip. I fixed it. Yes, it makes sense to break it up into paragraphs.

10-31-2003, 01:10 PM
I don't know about all of that, but I do know that
I just saved a bunch of money on my car insurance by
switchint to Geico!!!! /ccboard/images/graemlins/grin.gif /ccboard/images/graemlins/grin.gif /ccboard/images/graemlins/grin.gif

10-31-2003, 01:46 PM
I didn't have anyone to take me to a pool hall so just snuck in to see what was going on.

Quit place, no juke box, kinda dark except over the tables. Not much talking, just balls clicking and the louder break. Eventually I was allowed to try to play and was taught pool room ettiquete, something sadly lacking now.

To this day I am reminded of that place when I smell talcum powder.

Sean Murphy
12-11-2003, 12:11 PM
I am very happy to tell you that I have found a pool room that hasn’t change a bit in who knows how long, I'm guessing at least 25 years. It's on campus at U of M in Ann Arbor MI. in the Mich. Union building, 2nd floor. OH MY GOD!!! I went there the other day for the first time in 17 or 18 years and it is identical in every way to the way it was when I first went there.

I was in heaven! I played on a 58 year old Brunswick Centennial (the whole room was filled with Centennials). It was dressed in fresh Simonis cloth in a room with vintage vinyl floors and beautifully trimmed walls in solid oak paneling. There were 90 year old black and white portraits of former U of M athletes adorning the walls. I felt like I took a time warp back about 50 years. I wish that place wasn’t so far away, I'd go there every day. We played all afternoon, I think the tab was $5. No alcohol, no music, no T&A (except wifey /ccboard/images/graemlins/wink.gif) , just great pool.


#### leonard
12-11-2003, 12:37 PM
I never missed on Brunswick Centennials in fact I ran my first hundred on a Centennial. The contour of the rails fit my bridge hand perfect. I never missed a long shot off the rail. My first big match was against the Farmer[Norm Webber] on table number one in Cantons Pool Room.

Easy 100 or more spectators and everyone betting someone. If NYRA was there maybe we would be betting on pool games instead of Horses.####

#### leonard
12-11-2003, 12:55 PM
NBC-BOB I have tried to tell Fred Agnir about Smiths Poolroom in Springfield,Mass I played Smitty some straight pool on 5x10s in the 50s. My first experience playing for money on a5x10. I handled myself quite well if I must say so.

Later a friend of mine started working for Earl Shibe Auto Painting in Springfield and would go to Smiths to play billiards. One day he was playing and Whistling, when he notice Smith walking around the room, finally he announced to the crowd if he catches the Whistler, he will kick him out of the room. Oh!!! for the good old days of the poolroom.####

#### leonard
12-11-2003, 12:58 PM
Sean you could be mistaken for Fast Larry with those long paragraphs. ####

Fred Agnir
12-11-2003, 01:19 PM
<blockquote><font class="small">Quote #### leonard:</font><hr> NBC-BOB I have tried to tell Fred Agnir about Smiths Poolroom in Springfield,Mass I played Smitty some straight pool on 5x10s in the 50s. My first experience playing for money on a5x10. I handled myself quite well if I must say so.

Later a friend of mine started working for Earl Shibe Auto Painting in Springfield and would go to Smiths to play billiards. One day he was playing and Whistling, when he notice Smith walking around the room, finally he announced to the crowd if he catches the Whistler, he will kick him out of the room. Oh!!! for the good old days of the poolroom.#### <hr /></blockquote> The last time I was in Smith's, they had added a bar, got rid of the Carom tables, and some of the 5x10 pool tables. It also got sold to the guy who owns the bar downstairs. It's a younger crowd on Friday and Saturday night, like upscale places in the surrounding area.


#### leonard
12-11-2003, 02:20 PM
Fred the next time your there check on Jimmy Relihan "The Springfield Rifle" I haven't heard of Jimmy in 35 years. He went to Las Vegas and has never returned.

Jimmy was an admirer of my play. He told my backer after the last time I beat him "If he knew what I knew about straight pool no one would beat him". What is keeping me from going on the road? To many mouths to feed was my answer.####

12-12-2003, 07:37 AM
Bravo, Sean. Well put. There are a few threads here that deal with these lines, though. Smoking, gambling, the great remembrances of these pool rooms ... Is growing the game a goal that can be bundled with these pangs of dollar lust?

I'm always delighted when I find one of the rare rooms that resembles the descriptions many people have given me of the lost places, and I attest to this. The Union in Ann Arbor is glorious, especially compared to the Main Street bar, The Full Moon. Was that place still open when you were there? They used to have something like ten eight footers, and the only other place you could get action was on a bar box at the 8-ball, underneath the blare of the Blind Pig upstairs.

Thanks for reminding me of the place (I lost a few packs of smokes on bets in The Union, which was a nonsmoking place then and never seemed to lose much for it) and also for casting a poignant light on what we're losing.


12-12-2003, 09:08 AM
What a nice post Sean. I have only been playing since 1991, and the first time I ever picked up a cue was when I was in the University of Michigan Union poolroom!

By the way, Freddy Salem is still around the Detroit area. He is a close friend of mine. He still plays just about every day. I love all the stories he's shared with me...