Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Hermes Billiards Cafe: Give It A Fighting Chance!

Billiards and beer? For a pool hall, a liquor license is not a trivial matter. I saw this interesting read about the state of Hermes Billiards Cafe in Richmond Hill, Queens, from the New York Times, friends. It is not an ordinary read about billiards and beer, but an interesting one! And I kid you not!

Read on, billiards friends and pool players!

Billiards Graphic

From the New York Times

Drowsy Days at Billiards Cafe

Just inside the front door of the newly rechristened Hermes Billiards Cafe, under the rusty elevated tracks along Jamaica Avenue in Richmond Hill, Queens, is a red plastic deli-style number dispenser to keep track of the people waiting for one of the hall’s 20 tables.

The fixture has been hanging there a long time, regulars say, but these days it seems wildly optimistic. On Tuesday afternoon, just two tables were in use, surrounded by stalwarts who have been coming for years. Among them were Charles Miller, who once played here with the legendary Willie Mosconi; Richard Byrnes, whose family owns a pet shop up the street; and Pat Cotillo from Ozone Park, who doesn’t play anymore because of a back injury, but comes by to drink coffee and talk.

Meanwhile, in an office in the basement, at a desk where a computer monitor displays feeds from nine security cameras, Jason and Sunnie Kim were pondering how things had gone so wrong for a place that they and their son, Aaron, have owned for only four months.

The space had been a pool hall since the early 1960s. The Kims, who moved to Queens from Korea in the mid-1980s, leased the space in March, paying a security deposit of $49,500, agreeing to monthly rent of $8,250 and buying the security system. What they say they did not know was that the previous owner, who ran the business under the name Rack Em Up, was in the process of having his liquor license revoked, on charges that he had never properly transferred the license from the owner before him.

The Kims applied for a new liquor license of their own but were denied in April — because, said Bill Crowley, a spokesman for the State Liquor Authority, the revocation proceedings against the previous owner were still in progress. The Kims have asked that their request be reconsidered, but now, without beer sales, business is dead. By 3 p.m. on Tuesday, Sunnie Kim said, they had made $31. The monthly electric bill is $1,500.

For a pool hall, a liquor license is not a trivial matter. When people can have a beer while they play, Jason Kim said, they stay longer. “Now, they just come in 30 minutes,” he said. “I understand. They don’t have fun.”

In June, in a meeting covered by The Queens Chronicle, a local newspaper, Community Board 9 voted to oppose the Kims’ request. Andrea Crawford, the board’s chairwoman, noted in a letter to the liquor authority that her organization had a policy of opposing liquor licenses for all billiard halls, on the grounds that they are frequented by minors.

Still, the Kims have gathered some 300 signatures on a petition supporting their application, and gained the support of Assemblyman Anthony Seminario, who said the business had never caused any problems.

Of the community board’s vote, he grumbled: “They live in their own world. They think they’re in Utopia here.”

At the pool hall Tuesday, the idea of a young and rowdy crowd was hard to picture. “Nobody’s causing any trouble here,” Mr. Miller said with a shrug. “Most of us are either retired or semiretired, and it’s where we go during the day. We play pool, we play billiards, we watch horse racing — things like that.”

The crowd is younger on weekend nights, he said, but the older guys keep an eye on the place. Besides, Pat Cotillo said with a smile, “The kids that come in here, I have to say they probably act better than we did.”

Once, pool halls could be found all along Jamaica Avenue: four of them, spaced every few blocks. Today, only Hermes remains. Numbered beads still hang above the tables, for keeping score in straight pool, though most people nowadays play quicker games of nine ball. And pool purists are not enough to sustain a business. John Gavares, who works at the hall part time, said he knew someone from the Wise potato chip warehouse nearby who used to bring his friends in after work. He hasn’t been around much lately.

“He goes to the place on Lefferts, the Side Pocket,” Mr. Gavares said. “The people gotta wait an hour to play over there. All for a stinkin’ beer.”

A-Kid: For crying out loud, give Hermes Billiards Cafe its liquor license! The business hasn’t caused any trouble and all! Do you hear me? It’s all about being responsible and such! So come on! Give it a chance – a fighting chance!

"The AnitoKid supports billiards!"

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