BAY RIDGE — Brooklyn’s changed a lot in the last 56 years, but Bay Ridge’s Hall of Fame Billiards Club had remained more or less intact. Owned by Jean Balukas, one of the greatest pool players of all time and the first woman to compete in the sport with men, the club was one of the city’s oldest-running pool halls and a beloved haunt for those still devoted to the fading art of tabletop gaming. Last Sunday, it shuttered for good.
Balukas’ father Albert purchased a former bowling alley — Ovington Bowling Lanes — in Bay Ridge in 1964 with his business partner, Frank, a world professional pool champion, a story in 1987 ran in the New York Times. The article describes a then 28-year-old Balukas sweeping the club’s (mostly male) competition after her shifts at the cash register. Balukas cut her pool teeth at the club at a young age, going on to win a national title at 13 years old, and took over the club when her father died.
On a Reddit thread lamenting the club’s closure, commenters weighed in over the last three days.
“Damn, this is awful. RIP Hall of Fame Billiards. Another bit of Brooklyn that we’ll never get back. Hoping something decent opens up in its spot,” said user nadirecur.
“I go there all the time. Went there around a week and a half ago and was planning on going this week. Such an amazing place it sucks to see it go,” user OmarFT responded.
On Instagram, professional pool player Ashley Burrows aired her regrets: “Sad day here in Brooklyn. Hall of Fame Billiards has finally been sold and will be closing it’s [sic] doors forever. I spoke with Jean today and the last day will most likely be this Sunday. Stop in for a last visit while you can.”
Council Member Justin Brannan, who represents District 43 which includes Bay Ridge, is a huge fan of both the club and Balukas, and expressed to us his own personal grief:
“Jean Balukas is a living legend. A total trailblazer. She is basically the Billie Jean King of professional pool. And the Hall of Fame Billiards Club was really synonymous with Jean, her family, and her story. Jean was a self-taught rebel who challenged the status quo. She was an icon in the fight for gender parity in sports.
We are all sad to see Hall of Fame Billiards close but I think we know how lucky we are to have Jean’s legacy connected to Bay Ridge for so long through the pool hall. Things change and kids play video games now more than they play pool but I just hope more people will learn about Jean and it may inspire those in positions of power to promote diverse identities and to shatter the status quo.”
Council Member Brannan’s predecessor, former New York State Senator and Council Member Vincent Gentile, called the club’s closure “a passing of an era.” Gentile, who was a high school classmate of Balukas, said “We were always proud of the fact that we had Jean Balukas in our class,” as he reminisced about the time she shot pool with legendary Fats Domino.
The club was “a constant,” Gentile said, “a benchmark that you could always look back to and remember.”
Hall of Fame Billiards was on the market since early 2018, and while it was no surprise the building was sold, locals still have a hard time believing a celebrated institution in the neighborhood is now gone.