The first pool room I walked into was in Queens Village, New York, across from the LIRR railroad station on Springfield Boulevard, just south of Jamaica Avenue.
It was up a long flight of stairs, and I think the reason I went there in the first place was because I heard they would serve you a beer even if you didn’t have a draft card.
The drinking age was eighteen then and a draft card, issued by selective service on your 18th birthday, was the right of passage. Anyway, I was about sixteen and, sure enough, a beer slid across the bar when I nervously asked.
The room was an old fashioned room… dark, if no one was playing The tiffany type lamps that hung over each table only lit if the table was being paid for, switched on by the houseman at the desk when he punched the clock.
I think I was immediately hooked. There was a sort of mystery, an underlying sense of danger—for I immediately knew not to challenge anyone there, even simply by making eye contact. These were people you didn’t fool around with.
In this darkened smoky room the hushed sounds were interrupted only by the clicking noise of the balls hitting each other. Little dramas were being played out at each island of light. There were the hustlers and their pigeons, sometimes referred to as fish… and if you simply watched for a while, you immediately knew who was who.
I really don’t remember how many times I returned there, but I’ve been a pool room junkie ever since.
I was never to become a good player. More than fifty years ago I ran forty eight balls when I was in the US Army in Germany, and before my game collapsed I ran nine in three cushion billiards—but I never graduated from pigeon to player.
In the nineteen sixties and seventies, there were pool rooms in New York City that attracted the best players and hustlers from all over the country. The most notorious of these was “Ames.” Located on 44th Street just off
Seventh Avenue, it was open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It was upstairs, and when you got to the top of the stairs you were right in the middle of the room. You walked up and you were enveloped by the sights and sounds of this unique place.
In the classic film “The Hustler,” which was partially filmed there, Paul Newman’s character, “Fast Eddy” Felson, walks up to the houseman and asks if they play straight pool there. The houseman, who was the real houseman in a cameo role, replies flatly: “Mister, this is Ames.”
In the early sixties, when Lind