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Iconic Astoria pool hall ‘Steinway Café Billiards’ shutters after 33-year run

A decades-old pool hall in Astoria has shuttered following a protracted legal battle over back rent dating from the onset of the pandemic.

June 14, 2023 By Michael Dorgan

A decades-old pool hall in Astoria has shuttered following a protracted legal battle over back rent dating from the onset of the pandemic.

Steinway Café Billiards, an iconic venue for western Queens pool players known for its more than two dozen pool tables and a red-carpeted floor that contained pool ball motifs, shuttered for good last week after a 33-year run.

The expansive establishment, located between 34th Avenue and 36th Avenue, had hosted countless tournaments and legendary nine-ball player Earl Strickland served as the in-house professional there between 2011 to 2018. Strickland is considered one of the best pool players of all time. The hall attracted chess enthusiasts too as well as lovers of tavli, or Greek backgammon, who would often play on the elevated area of the one-story building.

The announcement to shutter the premises was made via social media on June 8, two days after a key decision was made in a two-years-long lawsuit over missed pandemic-era rent payments and fees which topped tens of thousands of dollars, according to THE CITY.

“It is with great sadness and shock that we must announce the sudden closing of Steinway Café Billiards,” a post on the company’s Instagram page reads.

“For over 30 years we loved serving our beloved community in Astoria and our wonderful customers from every single part of the world. We are absolutely devastated.”

Steinway Café Billiards opened in 1990.

(Photo via Instagram)

The post did not outline why the establishment was closing, although it was well-known the business had fallen into the red with rent payments.

In December, a judge ruled that a warrant would be issued for the pool hall’s eviction as a result of around $440,000 owed by the business in back rent since the start of the pandemic in March 2020, according to court documents. The business is owned by Georgios Nikolakakos.

The decision was appealed and the eviction was put on ice until a judge, on Tuesday, June 6, declined a motion from the business asking the landlord to show cause. Cause is when a judge requires a party to justify or explain why the court should or should not grant a motion or a relief.

The judge ordered that the business leave the premises on June 8.

The long-term future of the hall had also been cast into doubt since the unveiling of plans to build the new Innovation QNS development on the site where the hall stands. However, last week’s closure appears unrelated to that issue.

The closure brings an end to a neighborhood staple, which drew pool players from all over the world including Efren Reyes, Shane Van Boening and Alex Pagulayan, as well as multiple world snooker champion Ronnie O’Sullivan.

Pool players in action at Steinway Café Billiards (Photo via Facebook)

Nonetheless, the establishment will be better remembered as a gathering place for Astorians young and old, with many former patrons taking to Instagram to reminisce about their time there.

“Steinway was the first pool hall I ever played in,” wrote one poster. “Thank you for the amazing food and memories with my friends!”

“It’s been a long run! You paved the way for many!” another poster wrote. “Thanks for all that you have done for the pool community and Astoria 🙏🏾.”

Other former patrons recalled going for dates at “Steinway” and meeting friends to socialize or to watch sports on the many TV screens there.

Another former patron, Fawole John Oyeyemi wrote that he first learned to play chess at the venue.

“It was a special place for many chess players in New York City, including myself and it played an important role in connecting us with each other,” Oyeyemi wrote. “Steinway Billiards was more than just a venue for playing chess, it was a place where we laughed, joked, come together and connect over a shared passion. Thank you for the memories, Steinway Billiards — you will always hold a special place in our hearts.”

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