Sport: Pockets Full of History
In the year 1900, Ada and Minna Everleigh relocated their already-flourishing
enterprise from Omaha, Neb., to Chicago, a larger city that offered the sisters
the prospect of even greater riches, if they could establish a clientele among
the wealthiest citizens. To that end, the Everleighs spared no expense in
decorating and furnishing their new place of business. They adorned it with silk
curtains, Oriental rugs, mahogany tables, perfumed fountains, a $15,000
gold-leaf piano, and, to accommodate tobacco chewers, $650 gold cuspidors. At a
time when the average worker in Chicago made less than $10 a week, the sisters
also served gourmet meals and Champagne to their patrons, as further enticement
for them to spend $200 or more per visit to the Everleigh Club, the most opulent
brothel of its time.
In addition to enjoying the furnishings, food, drink, and companionship,
Everleigh Club customers also could play pool, on a table that Bankshot
Antiques, a pool table restoration shop in Albany, N.Y., more recently might
have acquired and refurbished. “Not all our tables have a story,” says Bankshot
co-owner Donald Bartholomay, “but they all come from a fascinating historical
period and have the character that shows it.”
Bartholomay cannot say with complete certainty that the table in question once stood in the billiard room of the Everleigh Club, but he will vouch for the provenance of another table, one that he acquired several years ago from the descendant of a New Mexico saloon keeper. The circa-1880 model was dirty, stained, and in general disrepair. “But no bullet holes,” notes Dave Grunenwald, Bartholomay’s business partner.
The 19th-century craftsmen who built tables would embellish them with inlaid patterns consisting of as many as eight different types of wood, from bird’s-eye maple to walnut to rosewood. The Bankshot partners will repair or replace these inlays and any other woodwork. “We don’t want them to look new,” Grunenwald says, “but we want to get some of that liveliness back.”
Most of the tables that Bartholomay and Grunenwald restore were made from 1870 to 1930, when billiards was a national obsession and tables occupied a room in many of the finest homes. The company’s portfolio includes a variety of furniture styles: Empire, Victorian, Mission, Art Deco.
Bartholomay and Grunenwald are as concerned with a table’s playing quality as they are with its appearance. They understand that a fraction-of-an-inch variation in the placement of a cushion can make the difference between a dead table and a lively one. Bartholomay himself delivers almost all of the tables he restores and may spend an entire day setting one up in the buyer’s home.
Bartholomay, who runs the business out of a historic factory building in Albany, says most of his customers are drawn to the tables for similar reasons. “They’re always interested in antiques,” he says, “always interested in history, always interested in furniture. Sometimes they play pool avidly, but not necessarily.” A customer also has to have sufficient vision and confidence to buy a worn, decrepit table and enough patience to allow Bankshot to complete the work, which can require several months.
The prices of Bankshot’s tables range from $15,000 to $70,000. Bartholomay owns a rare, mid-19th-century, cast iron Imperial model by the H.W. Collender Co. that he estimates could fetch at least $100,000 when refurbished. One can only imagine what that sum could have purchased at the Everleigh Club.