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BeatRoute Magazine BC Print Edition April 2018

BeatRoute Magazine is a monthly arts and entertainment paper with a predominant focus on music – local, independent or otherwise. The paper started in June 2004 and continues to provide a healthy dose of perversity while exercising rock ‘n’ roll ethics. Currently BeatRoute’s AB edition is distributed in Calgary, Edmonton (by S*A*R*G*E), Banff and Canmore. The BC edition is distributed in Vancouver, Victoria and Nanaimo. BeatRoute (AB) Mission PO 23045 Calgary, AB T2S 3A8 E. editor@beatroute.ca BeatRoute (BC) #202 – 2405 E Hastings Vancouver, BC V5K 1Y8 P. 778-888-1120

Photo by Edemiria

Photo by Edemiria Schmitz Hsiao 2018 Behind the Eight Ball Redux THE PLIGHT OF OUR NEIGHBOURHOOD POOL By Jovana Golubovic In the shadowy corners of the hall amass the players, circling their tables with the stealth of a wildcat. They enter the spotlight of hanging lamps to aim, shoot, and retreat again into darkness. Bets are made and corners are called amid murmur and the clinging of glasses. Tiny explosions sound in loose succession like striped and solid-colored fireworks. For some, the art of strategy draws them in, for others it’s the opportunity to socialize. With modern billiards dating back to the early 1900s, the game carries a timeless appeal. Yet there has long been speculation that it would not continue into the brave new world. An article in Vancouver Magazine published in 1979 mourned the plight of the neighborhood pool hall, and BeatRoute addresses the same matter in today’s article, forty years later. However you look at it, billiards is a game reminiscent of another time and perhaps of another kind of people. A bygone era before Netflix provided endless entertainment at the click of a button, before technology consumed human minds. I visited some of Vancouver’s most established pool halls to investigate why pool, which may be in a steady decline even as one of the world’s most popular games, is alive and well in the hearts of many. Bruno comes to the East End Pool Hall in Hastings Sunrise every day, though he doesn’t even like pool. He comes in to play cards with Mike, who has owned the place with his brother Luigi for 37 years. The Italian immigrant friends met near the pool hall at what was once Cafe Mario, but has since been replaced with a Portuguese restaurant. Always playing the Italian card game, Scopa, East End Billiards becomes an extension of their cultural dwelling. They never play for money, only for coffee, perhaps repelled by the original owner’s lewd reputation as a gambler. Mike always wins. He expertly whips up a cappuccino at the espresso machine on the corner of the bar. Mike attests that East End Billiards has seen no trouble since he and Luigi took over. However, the pool hall, which once went by a different name, comes with an edgy past. Mike and Luigi are the fourth owners it has seen. The first owner, one of two to be named Joe, is rumored to have had a gambling habit, quickly turning his second-floor games venue into an illicit hideaway. Story goes that one night, two people jumped out the window to evade the cops following a fight with Joe. Their legs were broken by the fall. Upon my visit, I saw a safe and inviting space, showing that Mike and Luigi, who were avid pool players back in Italy, had done wonders with the place. A billiards-themed mural draws your eye to the venue, which would otherwise be considered discreet. The mural is truly a relic of the past for someone is pictured smoking indoors. An ascending staircase upon entering gives the pool hall a secret clubhouse aesthetic. To one side of my table, a group of middleaged men in their 30s and 40s are speaking a language I wanted to believe was Italian, but which, upon further eavesdropping, was unquestionably Spanish. To the other side, a couple of college-aged boys take turns shooting, animated in conversation. When asked Photo by Rachael Moreland 10 April 2018

what draws them to this particular pool hall, the younger gentlemen expressed enchantment with the old-world charms of the owners, which won them over after they initially sought out the place for its location. The older gentlemen got straight to the point, offering no more information than, “I like the pool. I like the table.” “Light My Fire” by the Doors played three times in my 45-minute visit. A huge departure from the cozy, personable east-side hall, Commodore Lanes and Billiards is a busy beast and the staircase, this time, descends. Commodore is known as the longest-standing pool hall in Vancouver, established in 1928, although it technically only introduced billiards in the mid 80’s. It is also the largest, boasting twenty tables. Every day is a party on Granville Street, Vancouver’s designated entertainment district, and this is reflected by the amount of tourists the iconic games hall attracts. Tourist from England, Switzerland, and China make up my adjacent tables, all happy-go-lucky during a stopover on a night on the town. “People come in for a good time,” says T.J., a manager who informed me that business is reliably steady, and if anything was swinging wildly, it was the bowling business. T.J. emphasizes that Commodore Lanes does not endorse leagues: an attempt to keep pool for the people. League players can be demanding, not to mention secretive. It is not uncommon for them to request empty buffer tables surrounding theirs so that none may spy on their methods. Historical memorabilia decorates the walls of Commodore Lanes & Billiards as top 40 blasts from the speakers. Fresh from the sensory overload of downtown, I ease my way onto the checkered floor of Guys & Dolls Billiards on Main Street. The bartender seems vaguely amused and largely confused by the outgoing gentleman seated at the bar. I interrupt to ask her if I may interview her briefly about the pool hall. “You’re better off asking Don,” she gestures towards the man on the barstool, “he comes in here every day.” As a former employee and apparent pool enthusiast, it is surprising that Don was dismissive of the game. He prefers nine ball. “You lose by accident in eight ball; you win by accident in nine ball,” he advises. Big on leagues, which are largely comprised of families, Guys & Dolls strives to be inclusive to all people, an interestingly different approach than that of Commodore. This main street venue is a more than a pool hall; it’s a hangout, a part of the community. It is a drop-in centre for pool players, or just anyone. “[The owners] help out people who are homeless; nice guys who are down on their luck. They let them sit down on a couch and fall asleep. Let them be out of the rain,” the ex-employee tells me and I believe him when he exclaims that the owner, Kelsey, is “a hell of a nice guy!” Don complains that there are barely any pool halls left, “There used to be like 20,” he says. “Now there are five.” Finally, somebody affirms what I set out to write. Supply and demand is what he attributes to this massacre, and it would justify why the management at the other pool halls haven’t noticed dips in business. With less pool halls in town, players are forced to keep to only a few halls. But why is the demand dropping? I initially thought that pool might not be accessible to young people, the next generation of pool players, due to Vancouver’s archaic liquor laws. Yet all three of the pool halls I visited allowed minors. Perhaps it’s the very nature of the game that is becoming unattractive to people today. The social aspect may be too much for an increasingly introverted society. People today prefer texts over phone calls, disassociated interaction over real life. The amount of skill required and the potential for mastery makes it a game akin to chess, another excellent and locally unpopular game. Are people today too blasé to bother with steep learning curves? We must step up to the challenge, keep our minds sharp and keep pool thriving in the few venues it has left to thrive. I am more than amused when Don pull out a flipphone. This guy gets it. Photo by Rachael Moreland Photo by Yuta Kato Photo by Edemiria Schmitz Hsiao Photo by Edemiria Schmitz Hsiao April 2018 11

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