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Insights: Indulgences

Matt Kramer
From the Print Edition:
Don Johnson, Mar/Apr 02

Playing pool (or billiards or snooker) is unique for one delicious reason: no other game is so simultaneously low-class and high-class. It's both raffish and refined. No other game delivers both.

You lean over the green expanse of a pool table and you can be either a) Minnesota Fats in a smoky pool hall or b) an English gentleman in an exclusive men's club. When you think about it, cigars are always present in both locales, too.

I'm not, regrettably, a member of either group. (I'd rather be Minnesota Fats or, better yet, Paul Newman in The Hustler.) But give the exclusive men's clubs one admirable advantage: they've got -- or used to have, anyway -- incredibly elegant pool tables.

No matter how skilled or pokey your pool game, there's nothing like a great table. No other piece of furniture is quite like one of those massive, rare-wood wonders from what was the golden age of pool tables, roughly 1890 to 1915.

"That was absolutely the era of great tables," confirms Ron Blatt of Blatt Billiards in New York City. He ought to know. Although there are perhaps a dozen dealers of antique or vintage pool tables around the country, Blatt Billiards (www.blattbilliards.com) is easily the grandest of them all.

Located in a six-floor factory-showroom in lower Manhattan, at 809 Broadway near 12th Street, Blatt is to billiards what Tutankhamun was to tombs. "We have the world's largest collection of antique pool tables," says Blatt. With approximately 2,800 pool tables in inventory, it's a believable claim.

Although Blatt Billiards, among others, makes new, custom-made pool tables (more about those in a moment), it's hard to resist the sheer "swoon appeal" of a restored vintage pool table.

"High-end pool tables are becoming real rarities," says Ken Hash of Classic Billiards in Perry Hall, Maryland. "There's really nothing like a vintage pool table, especially once they've been properly restored, which nearly all of them need. The variety of veneers, the intricacy of the inlays, the carvings -- they're really something to see," he enthuses.

Classic Billiards (www.classicpool.com) is typical of the small coterie of vintage pool table dealers around the country. "There's always a lot of bragging about how many vintage pool tables you have in stock," Hash explains. "We've got 50 to 60 tables on hand at any time. Out of those, we restore about 12 a year. All told, we've restored about 300 tables. It's quite exacting, as well as highly personal to the customer's specifications."

Restored antique pool tables are drop-dead regal, real traffic stoppers. What's more, as supplies of the finest tables dwindle, they've become good investments, too.


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