Over 30 years of glorious billiard history has come to an end. Hard Times Billiards was southern California's hardcore pool players headquarters. No other pool-hall came close to the history and true pure love of billiards. They had no alcohol, no fancy sports TVs. What did they have? They had hardcore tables. Snooker tables, Heated Carom Tables, and 25 tough gold-crown 9-foot tables, and ten of them set impossibly tight for the best players in the world to compete on, complete with arena seating. That's right; one went there to see the best players, like in any other major sports arena.
Hard times was voted the Best pool room in America by Billiards Digest in 1996. New York had Amsterdam Billiards, California, had Hard-times. First opened by the Markulis family and subsequently sold to the Thomason family. Then lastly, to Edie. Hard Times served pocket-billiards for several generations. The best players came here not only from Los Angeles, not only from the state, no, they came from all over the world. Where else is this to happen?
Every day up and coming players would come from all over, to lose to the best in tournaments, or to play in ridiculously high-stake money games. Hard-times was a pro player's top college. This pro-college turned out future billiard stars and billiard pros like Oscar Domingues, who now owns and runs the sister Hard Times, Sacramento, now the last temple of billiards left in California. New York gave us the Jeanette Lee, and Hard Times gave us Mary Avina. POV pool media was also was born at Hard-times. A temple of pool gave us an endless list of other great and notable, but lesser-known players such as; Andy Chen, Box Patterson, Jay Helfert, Jun Almoite, Jenny Lee, Dave Hemmah, Melissa Herndon, Brook Thomason, Ken Thomason, Jerry Matchin, Robin Bell Dodson, Wayne Pullen, Frank Almanza, Chris Robinson, Ruben Bautista, Sal Butera, James Woods, Butch Barba, Mark Barba, Catfish, and Hawaiian Jimmy all that become somebodies the tough way, getting their ass kicked. Wagering big and small, no participation trophies here. You win, you lose, get over it. Where are the kid and teenager future pros players going to go? Where is there another monthly tournament drawing over 90 players plus? One that had been doing so for over 30 years. Huge yearly purse tournaments that attracted the best players from all over the world year in year out. Where else?
The tournaments were, though, local champions when to Hard-Times to lose. Why because being the best in one town or county or even a state was not good enough, not special. For the big tournaments, you had to beat Efren Reyes, Francisco Bustamante, Keith McCready, Nick Varner, Mike Sigel, Mika Immonen, Alex Pagulayan, Earl Strickland, Buddy Hall, Dennis Orcollo, and Shane Van Boening. In other words, the best in the world. Even the weekly tournament would draw 4 to 5 pros or more on average. For close to no money, you had to beat the likes of Ernesto Domingez, Morro Paez, Bernando 'King Kong' and Jose Parica. Where else can you upstairs and have your cue worked on or made by 'Little AL'?
These are sad times for billiards, Hard-times was a magical place for the hardcore billiard player, and I'm angry. Maybe I'm a dinosaur of times past. I don't love easy tiny tables, and I love playing for money. Still, it feels like little by little, the heart of American billiards is being replaced by easy, small tables and handicapped league systems. Finding a money game is harder and harder. I don't dislike leagues but to me. To me, pool should not be easy or safe. I like my pool serious, and we just lost another temple of pool. To quote the great Barbara Lee, "Pool is not dead" Yes, you're right Barbara, pool is not dead, but you know what? We are down, and it hurts. It really does hurt.