The Carom Cafe in Flushing, Queens


Posted by Bert VAN MANEN on July 6, 2013

Bert van ManenFrom 17-21 July, there will be another edition of the Verhoeven Open in New York, a USBA summer tournament formerly known as the “Sang Lee Memorial” (2005 – 2008). The SLM’s were absolute highlights in contemporary American 3-cushion history, made possible by significant backing from private sponsors. The event was scaled down and lost a lot of its prestige from 2009 on, but appears to be picking up steam again in 2013. Blomdahl, Caudron, Merckx, Leppens, Forthomme, Ceulemans and Sayginer are announced as participants, and naturally all the top USA players will be there, including the new Pan-American individual champion Piedrabuena and team champions Shooni and  Patino. Maybe even a few good Koreans will attend, and what a pleasant surprise it would be if one or two of the Colombian talents made the trip. The Open will again be preceded by a women’s event and it boasts the strongest field ever, with reigning world champion Higashiuchi and former world champion Hida as 2nd and 3d favorites behind powerhouse Klompenhouwer.

My column finds much of its inspiration in the Low Countries: Belgium and Holland. Let me give you a few good excuses for that: Merckx, Jaspers, Caudron. I have more, if needed. But this time, rather than informing Americans about 3-cushion in my neck of the woods, I’d like to tell Europeans about a place that is unique in many ways, and forever in my heart. The centre of billiards in New York and probably the nr. 1 room in the USA, a Sang Lee legacy: the Carom Cafe at Linden Place.

Korean-born American Sang Chun Lee first opened a billiard room in Elmhurst (also in NY), and went all-out a few years later when he converted an enormous industrial building in Flushing into a palace of billiards. The central arena has 10 Verhoeven full-size tables surrounded by stands for spectators; around that arena there are dozens of pool tables, smaller billiards, table tennis tables, a bar and a restaurant. The sheer size of the building and its high ceiling make it totally different from any European billiard room you’ve ever played in. But don’t be fooled by the “factory” look. Sang Lee’s former partner and current Carom Cafe owner Michael Kang is a respected 3-cushionist himself, and he knows what players want. The resident billiard mechanic is a true craftsman, the table-vacuuming / ball-cleaning frequency is high, the music low. Conditions are superb in the Carom Cafe.

10527535_731585663568942_7987918236720961342_nA seven-minute walk will take you from the billiard room to Main Street, with all the shops and the subway station. You will think you are in Seoul. There’s ten neon signs in Korean for every Old Navy, Starbucks or McDonalds. Small businesses are everywhere, a basement the size of a closet is a nail-parlour, a bus stop is also a fruit stand. If you are Dutch, you experience a major culture shock at street crossings: people actually wait when the sign says “Don’t Walk”. There is a sense of purpose on these crowded sidewalks: people go from A to B, hardly anyone is just killing time. Flushing is a city in a city, going about its business, very Asian but increasingly melting-pot American. It’s hot, it’s loud; a no nonsense place where if you mix some oriental politeness into your New Yorker attitude, you’ll be fine.

Flushing, Queens is the last stop on the 7-line, a half hour train ride to or from Manhattan. You’ll get a good look at the Citi Field stadium (baseball) and the Arthur Ashe stadium (tennis). Not in a hurry? Exit the 7-train at Vernon Boulevard / Jackson Avenue, the last stop before the East River, and go across the 59th Str. Bridge on foot. Use the left (south) footpath, and you can take sensational pictures of Manhattan midtown.

Tournament director in the Carom Cafe is always the soft-spoken Charles Brown, and he has done well. Let me quickly take you through a decade, the recent history of the event:

  • 2004. The runner-up (Ramon Rodriguez) is more surprising than the winner (Blomdahl). The Peruvian musician beats TB 40 – 24 in 37 (!) in the round robin, but that is the Swede’s only hiccup. Pedro is 3d, Semih 4th.
  • 2005. Again Blomdahl, in a stronger field this time. Horn wins the B-final in impressive style: 1.842 general average. TB averages 2.006 in the A-final, Semih in 2nd place is not far off with 1.988. Jaspers 3d, Zanetti 4th. Pedro has the high run: 17.
  • 2006. Caudron wins, TB 2nd, Semih 3d, SW Choi 4th. A spectacular, bewildering, crazy tournament. Jaspers starts off with a 1.97 average for his first 5 matches, losing all 5. He will nevertheless end in 6th place, with the best average of the field, helped by a 40 in 8 win over KR Kim. Belgians Forthomme and de Backer end 8th and 9th in that 10-player A-final, with 1.655 and 1.510 for the tournament. Pretty amazing. Choi is down 1 – 19 in 11 to TB and wins 40 – 27 in 21. Caudron runs a 20. You needed three sets of eyes, that year.
  • 2007. Again Caudron, who wins 8 and loses just 1, to Daniel Sanchez. Fantastic final shot to win, by FC. DS is 2nd, Semih 3d, Tasdemir 4th. TB does not qualify for the A-final (SW Choi again his nemesis), but of course wins the B-final, stealing the high run prize with a 15 against Ceulemans, in the final match.
  • 2008. Lionheart Forthomme beats Caudron in the final, TB 3d, Horn 4th. Jung Han Heo, Duek Hee Hwang and Jae Ho Cho prove to be world class, as well as Tasdemir, Coklu and Bury. We get our first look at Dong Koong Kang and his unbelievable stroke. An overly complicated new format is not a success, but the quarterfinal between Frédéric and Semih (50 – 49 in 18) is unforgettable.
  • 2009. None of the top players show up this year, due to the different budget. The surprise finalist is Min Jae Pak, who sees Dion Nelin run a 14 and out, to win the tournament. Artistic wizard Torres 3d, Haack-Sorensen 4th.
  • 2010. Luis Avila beats Sonny Cho in the final. Jae Hyung Cho 3d, Patino 4th. Grand averages are nowhere near what they used to be, in NY. Therese Klompenhouwer quickly makes a name for herself on this continent, she beats both Hugo Patino and Sonny Cho.
  • 2011. Another surprise winner: Javier Teran from Equador, who is superb in his final against Hugo Patino (35 – 11 in 10), Dutch youngster Glenn Hofman coming in 3d. Therese wins the women’s tournament in style.
  • 2012. Blomdahl is back in the Big Apple, a certain winner? No, he loses the final to Pedro Piedrabuena who is patient, efficient, lethal. Forthomme 3d, Patino 4th, Leppens 5th.
  • 2013? After the Jaspers – Caudron match at Agipi and the Caudron – Zanetti in Brandenburg, I sold my crystal ball on Ebay, so no predictions from me. But it has “great tournament” written all over it. Get a Kozoom subscription, and watch!