Michael’s Billiards in Amherst ends 25-year run

  • Cari Lo, right, who is the owner of Michael’s Billiards, waits on Anthony Suarez, of Amherst. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Salvador Suarez, of Hadley, shoots pool at Michael’s Billiards in Amherst. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Michael Gonda, of Boston, shoots pool at Michael's Billiards in Amherst, Tuesday, July 10, 2018. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Racked balls rest on a pool table at Michael's Billiards. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Anthony Suarez, of Amherst, shoots pool at Michael's Billiards in Amherst, Tuesday, July 10, 2018. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Cindy Suarez, left, of Hadley, and Dania Suarez, of Amherst, at the billiard hall. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Cari Lo, left, who is the owner of Michael's Billiards in Amherst, talks with Gregg Hutchins, of Belchertown, Tuesday, July 10, 2018. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Michael’s Billiards at 10 Belchertown Road, Amherst. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

Staff Writer
Published: 7/15/2018 5:50:01 PM

AMHERST — Amherst’s only dedicated pool hall, where championship billiards teams have competed for the past 25 years, closed its doors for good Saturday night.

“I’m going to miss this place,” said Gregg Hutchins of Belchertown, sitting at the bar at Michael’s Billiards on Tuesday, just days before the last pool was played at the 10 Belchertown Road site. “This has been a true staple of the pool game in Amherst. It’s the only venue with 9-foot tables in town.”

Nine of the 10 pool tables featured at Michael’s Billiards are larger than the 7-foot pool tables commonly found in bars.

The end for Michael’s Billiards, which original owner Michael Kang opened in 1986 at a bar formerly known as Poor Richard’s, comes as Yan Choy Lo, whom everyone knows as Cari Lo, decided that owning the business for some 25 years was enough. Lo, 63, said his wife, Annie, who ran Route 9 Pizza out of the same building in the East Amherst village center, retired earlier.

Originally from Hong Kong, Cari Lo had purchased the business in the early 1990s after becoming one of its patrons while working for a decade as a waiter and chef at the neighboring Hunan Garden restaurant.

Over time, Lo, who lives in Hadley, became recognized for his billiards prowess, often playing host to, and being part of, teams in 8-ball and 9-ball leagues that had significant success at the local, state and regional levels. Plaques for all these accomplishments line the site’s walls, along with a handful of trophies.

“He’s the reason they are a championship team,” Hutchins said.

In 2001, the Gazette profiled Lo’s team that was heading to the Molson 9-Ball National Team Championship in Las Vegas. In 2016, the team won the New England American Pool Players Association 9 Ball State Championship for the fourth time, and again went to Las Vegas to compete for a $25,000 prize.

Unlike regular bars, where players may put their drinks on the tables and use the tables in a casual way, Lo has taken upkeep seriously. “My tables are really good,” Lo said.

Each year the tables are resurfaced and people are called out if they risk compromising their integrity.

“If they sit on a table, I kick them out,” Lo said.

Though outside downtown and not part of the bar crawl, generations of college students, including Hutchins, discovered Michael’s Billiards while attending the University of Massachusetts.

“For me, since I was a young lad, its an affordable way to spend a constructive evening honing one’s billiards skills,” Hutchins said.

While college students have patronized the bar, it’s those who make their home year round who have been drawn to return time and again.

Anthony Suarez of Amherst, who has been coming for about 18 years, recently spent a night with several members of his family.

“I love the quaintness about it,” Suarez said. “We would come in and it would be the same people. It was like family.”

As good as Lo is as a pool player, his skills as a bartender have also become legendary.

“People never forget me and my mixed drinks,” Lo said.

Perhaps the most memorable is the Mongolian M.F., which features 10 different liquors, the Grateful Dead and the Bahama Surprise.

“Most people don’t remember my name, but they remember my drink,” Lo said.

Next to the bar is an open area where local music has been a staple for many evenings. Lo said he has encouraged college bands to use this stage to perform as they try to gain recognition.

“We have any kind of music,” he said.

Hutchins said Ivory Billiards in Holyoke, which is where the New England championships are held, will likely be the place he turns to continue playing now that Michael’s is no longer.

By October, the location is expected to become the North Hot Pot restaurant, with Chinese cuisine. Jeremy Liu, a recent UMass graduate, intends to renovate the site.

A couple of weeks before its final evening, Michael’s Billiards had a formal closing party and opportunity for people to purchase memorabilia, including LED and neon lights that have been part of its ambience, posters advertising events and even pool tables — though none of those sold are going to bars, but will instead likely end up in homes of avid players.

Lo noted that the closing brings to an end the era of several popular Amherst establishments of the 1970s and 1980s that people fondly recall, including Charlie’s, Delano’s and Barselotti’s.

“It’s been a great pool hall,” Lo said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.

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