When Blatt Billiards opened in New York in 1923, the city was in the throes of pool fever. Eight-ball had been played since the turn of the century, and straight pool, a game in which players called every shot, became the championship game of record in 1912. Then in 1920, nine-ball made its raucous debut. So popular were cue sports that Ralph Greenleaf, who won six consecutive world titles from 1919 through 1924 and six more titles after that, was earning $2,000 a week on the vaudeville circuit. Amateur players could not get enough of this democratic pastime that welcomed participants at every skill level. Consequently, by the mid-1920s, some 4,000 billiard parlors were operating in the New York metropolitan area.
Someone had to service all those tables and furnish the supplies, and Sam Blatt, the patriarch of the company, gave it a shot. Blatt first succeeded at crafting cues and balls, before he and his son Maurice began taking apart and reconditioning the old jumbo-framed behemoths that Brunswick had been manufacturing since 1845. In the process of disassembling these burly models, the Blatts learned how to construct structurally sound tables.
Today, with some 2,500 tables in inventory, Blatt Billiards employs some of the foremost experts on antique tables—common and rare. With this knowledge, the company’s craftsmen are able to make new tables based on the same building principles and techniques used to create the antiques. One such principle is T-rail construction, in which the rail bolts are threaded into and become part of the slate to form what current proprietor Ron Blatt calls, “a precise, true geometric rectangle.” For players, it means a perfect bounce off the cushion, a flawless game.Take a tour of Blatt’s five-story edifice at 809 Broadway in Greenwich Village, and you will pass through a veritable museum of pool history. Surrounding you are tables with cabriole legs, gold medallions, intricate carvings and marquetry, and colorful veneers. Wood inlays run the gamut from rosewood to elm burl to Makassar ebony to countless varieties of mahogany. One model, the Trafalgar, has 15 mahogany legs, and the Cabaret features a complex S-curved body and hand-sewn leather pockets.
In this museum, you can take the art with you. Blatt’s fully restored antique tables are priced from $17,500 to more than $50,000. But if nothing catches your eye, you can select the design elements—including the stains and dyes, which are mixed on the premises—for your table. “The only limit is your imagination and your wallet,” says Ron Blatt. Custom-built tables range in price from about $14,500 to as much as $50,000 or more for a model featuring intricate carvings and inlays.
To finish the job, Blatt uses Artemis rubber from Germany and Simonis cloth from Belgium, a flat worsted fabric on which the balls seem to roll forever. Beyond that, Blatt cannot help you. Pocketing balls is up to you.