Amsterdam natives who were young in the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s pay tribute to Market Street pool hall proprietor Louie Allen.
Richard Ellers, a 1945 Amsterdam high school graduate, said he has fond memories of Louie as a no-nonsense Dutch uncle.
“We called him Reverend, partly because he was strict about behavior,” Ellers recalled.
Ellers said no cussing was allowed at Louie’s, “but he was always ready to shake ‘buck dice’ for money or just for a soda pop, and his back room was a haunt of poker players and some crap shooting.”
James Romanowski, who played at Louie’s in the 1960s, said Allen could not use his left arm — apparently a birth defect — and wore a lift in his left shoe.
Allen’s first-floor pool hall was on Market Street at an alley that led to the police station. The building was torn down for urban renewal in the 1970s.
Romanowski had joined the Marines and, when he returned to the area, sought out Allen at the former pool hall owner’s camp on Great Sacandaga Lake. Romanowski asked if he could buy any of the tables that had been in the pool hall. Allen replied he took the pool tables himself and used the slate for the patio at his camp.
When he was 15, Amsterdam native Mark Copp was “a heckuva pool player” at Frank’s Pool Hall, above the Sears store next to the bus station on East Main Street.
“The smoke was so thick that you could hardly see the table next to you,” Copp said. “You could buy cigarettes for 2 cents each (three for a nickel) from a shot glass kept under the counter.”
Frank was Frank Wyszomirski. The pool hall attracted young men from the nearby Catholic school, St. Mary’s Institute, during their lunch hour.
Michael Cuddy recalled the day the principal at St. Mary’s, Mother Grace, raided Frank’s. As Mother Grace came up the front stairs, boys ran down the back stairs or crowded into the men’s room.
It was rumored Mother Grace sometimes stationed herself with binoculars at Lurie’s Department Store across the street to observe the comings and goings at Frank’s.
A famous pool player named Frank Taberski lived most of his life in Schenectady but was born in 1889 in Amsterdam. According to an online source, Taberski began shooting pool in Amsterdam when he was only 13. Taberski turned professional in 1915 and became world champion a year later.
Taberski was nicknamed “The Sloth” and “The Inexorable Snail” because he took so long between shots. He forfeited his title in 1919 after officials set a time limit on shots, but he won four more titles in the late 1920s.
Taberski later owned a bowling alley and pool hall at 135 Broadway in downtown Schenectady. He died in 1941 at age 52.
In 1963, at the dawn of the age when pool was becoming more upscale and family-friendly, Daily Gazette columnist Larry Hart did a story on the traditions of pool hall culture. Taberski’s former Broadway establishment was operated at that time by another Amsterdam native and excellent pool player, James Chiara. Chiara told Hart many pool players die young.
“There’s a lot of tension which builds up during big matches, and it stays inside even after the match is over,” Chiara said at the time.
Chiara’s nephew, Michael Chiara of Amsterdam, said his late uncle’s Schenectady establishment was torn down for the downtown parking garage. James Chiara used to come home to Amsterdam and put on great trick-shot demonstrations at the local pool halls.
“It is a science,” Michael Chiara said.