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10/28/08

Billiardsburg.com, Bamonte's, Blue Monday, BFF & Oulu

Nice Shot, Good Game
Billiardsburg.com proves you don’t have to be a pool shark

By Cathy Erway

Clicking through the reviews of pool tables on Billiardsburg.com might make one wonder why every photo of a lonely pool table, its hypnotic colors drenched beneath a perfect dome of overhead light, look like something out of a David Lynch film. Maybe this says something for the popularity of the quintessential seedy bar game in Williamsburg, where hipsters scrape felt next to old-timers, drunkards, suits and “weirdos.” Yet to the discerning founding members of Billiardsburg.com, not all bars’ tables are created equal.

“We realized a lot of places had bad tables, so we wanted to warn people. And we also wanted to recommended good spots,” said Karol Lu, founder and editor of the website.

A haven for casual to pseudo-serious pool shooters, Billiardsburg.com was launched last winter and includes updated bar reviews, a blog and event listings. Its main feature is an interactive map of all the reviewed tables in the area, ranging from the desolate to the “douchoisie”-ridden. Anyone interested in playing a game can click on a bar on the map and view a report on its pool table. Each are given a numeric rating for its lighting, cue stick condition, space condition and amenities (chalk, crutch), along with an overall summary and a note on its cost. The site has also hosted pool tournaments, food parties and other events.

“We wanted to make it a community site, because a lot of times it’s hard for pool enthusiasts to come together and talk, share ideas and meet. So we wanted the solidarity of a pool league, but without the pressure or commitment.”

Lu, who has lived in Williamsburg since 2003 explained that she and writer/editor Matthew Bagdanoff began playing pool obsessively around 2006. Improving their skills and ever on the hunt for the best places to practice them in, the two friends frequently found themselves in situations where avid sportsmanship evidently wasn’t very much regarded by the bar’s management or its customers. Back when Sweetwater on North 6th St. was still a bar and not a restaurant, it had one of the worst tables in town.

“It was completely dark. We accidentally shot the 2 ball instead of the 8 ball in because we couldn’t see, and our game was over,” Lu recalled.

Even today, the members prattle off horror tales of pool-playing atrocities on the website. Playing with a regular at Subway Bar on Metropolitan Ave., their opponent drank their beer and then punctured holes in the drywall of the “troublesome corner with the butts of the cue stick so that he could make a shot from an otherwise awkward position.”

“Everything is completely subjective. We wrote the reviews as incendiary so as to be provoking, so people will comment, tell us their opinions, or stand up for their favorite hang-out,” said Bagdanoff.

Even though some of these bars receive poor rankings, the attitude of Billiardsburg is ultimately upbeat: by fostering enthusiasm for the game and assessing the quality of the atmosphere and playing conditions, the website aims to elevate these standards.

So far, it seems to be working. East River Bar, which was reviewed when the site launched in November, had only one cuestick then, “which was bent,” according to Lu. The game also cost zero cents to play. Now, the bar has a brand-new table, and it costs $1.50—making it one of the priciest spots by Billiardsburg standards. Zabloski’s on North 6th St., the founders note, has rearranged their pool table in recent months so that players don’t jab strangers as much due to an awkward set-up.

But what would happen if the site’s plan worked all too well, and soon every pool table in Williamsburg became spotless, shining and new—and not to mention $3.00 per game?

“Well, it would be typical of Williamsburg,” said Lu. “But we’re used to rising prices here, so it might not be that different.”

According to the members of Billiardsburg, where is the…

Best Table to Meet People While You Play?
The Levee (212 Berry St.)

Best Table to get in Some Serious, Cheap, Uninterrupted Pool?
San Loco (160 North 4th St. - only 50 cents a game)

Best Table in Terms of the Free Food?
Trash Bar (256 Grand St. - free tater tots!)

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Bamonte’s is Still Bamonte’s, After 108 Years

By Joanna Brown

The group of men who had dined at Bamonte’s every Monday night for the past 20 years is small during my recent visit. The rest of the group, Joseph Cuiffo informs me, is in the Hamptons on vacation.

Tonight, Cuiffo is dining only with Anthony Bamonte—owner of Bamonte’s and grandson of Pasquale Bamonte, who opened the restaurant more than one hundred years ago.

“It’s our therapy session,” says Cuiffo, with a laugh, of these longstanding ritualistic dinners. Joe is one of the many regular customers who are part of the large Bamonte extended family. It is a family that boasts fifth- or even sixth-generation customers.

Bamonte’s serves southern Italian comfort food. During a previous visit I had ordered the exceptional homemade ravioli in a delicious tangy marinara sauce. This time I sample the stuffed artichoke appetizer, which is hearty and simple—filled with breadcrumbs, garlic and Parmesan cheese. For my entrée I order the penne with Portobello mushrooms and sun-dried tomatoes. A dish like this is not a traditional one at Bamonte’s, but it is fresh and tasty. The portions are large, and often very garlicky. Some of Bamonte’s signature dishes include linguini with crab sauce, chicken scarpariello, as well as traditional Neapolitan dishes like scungilli and tripe.

The Bamonte family emigrated from Ottati—a small town in the Province of Salerno in southwestern Italy. They arrived in New York in the 1890s and opened the restaurant in 1900, and in its earlier days it functioned mainly as a catering facility called Liberty Hall.

Anthony Bamonte began working at the restaurant when he was only six or seven years old, preparing potatoes and cleaning. He tells me he remembers a time when Bamonte’s offered complementary food like tripe and chicken gizzards at the bar. In those days, on any particular Friday or Saturday night, he would have recognized nearly every face in the dining room. In the 1960s, Anthony Bamonte took over the restaurant from his father—the second Pasquale Bamonte. Since then, Bamonte’s has been visited by countless celebrities and has been featured in four episodes of The Sopranos.

Lisa Bamonte, one of Anthony Bamonte’s three daughters, began working at her family’s restaurant as a teenager. She later attended culinary school and returned to Bamonte’s to cook the recipes that had been in her family for more than 100 years.

“I absolutely love it,” Lisa says of managing Bamonte’s. “I’m very fortunate. Some people tell me I’m part of a legacy.” Lisa is thrilled to expose new Williamsburg residents to Southern Italian cuisine. “The younger generation that is coming here is a breath of fresh air,” she says.

Lisa Bamonte confides that she is sometimes disappointed by reviews that describe Bamonte’s food and décor as being dated. She refutes, “These drapes, this chandelier make Bamonte’s Bamonte’s.”

As I finish my dinner, I watch each customer shake Mr. Bamonte’s hand as they walk by his table. He asks about their relatives or upcoming vacations.

Many of the original southern Italian families have moved away from Williamsburg in recent years, but they always come back to visit Bamonte’s—their Italian home away from home. Every year, during the dance of the Giglio, former residents flock to Bamonte’s for an enormous party in which tables are packed with 20-30 people.

As for Lisa Bamonte, it does not look like she’ll be leaving any time soon. “As long as I have the restaurant, I’ll always be in Williamsburg.” If her children do the same, maybe Bamonte’s will stay around for another hundred years.

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Ah, You Savage Cinderella’s!
Or, several spells for Goodbye Blue Monday

By Jonathan Blake Fostar

Johnny Appleseed, if that is even his real name, eats several psychedelics. Misquoting his ancestors, he turns to a friend, apparently, and shouts, “The music begins where the piano ends.” The band has taken the stage.

Goodbye Blue Monday (1087 Broadway) is the name of the place, but the bartender calls it Mona. Machine gun trains roar on outside where Bushwick moves up and down Broadway. Johnny Appleseed stands quietly. He mentions that though this is no place to chase skirts exactly, “if you can sit down on your manhood for a second, all your other senses will find a place to explode.” This is exactly how he means to say it, though it comes out differently, before he leaves everyone for the nighttime.

Besides the music crowded on to the small Argentinean stage inside, the room is filled with ancient artifacts that cause the ceiling to crumble. Lamps belonging to old opium dens limp in the corners. Tables from Oscar Wilde’s patio bachelor parties sit surrounded by chairs fashioned from 1950s plastic and spare wheels. Their dissolving bicycles hang overhead, barely. Smut T-shirts sleep somewhere in the back. A library of greatest hits lines the walls, filled with voodoo texts, “Other” histories and poems disguised as pop culture. A Life magazine circa 1942 lays open on an unmanned table. Headlines leap out yelling of GERMAN TROOPS MOUNTING AT BORDERS! or MEET YOUR FOUR STAR GENERALS or ISN’T SHE PRETTY? The woman in the photograph flexes all her muscles.

Laughter shakes skinny girls smoking cigarettes in the doorway. The whole room is for sale. Anything you’d like, for a price, wherever the price finds itself that day. Let the great auction begin.

Steve, less owner and more ever present ringleader of this weekly Brooklyn sideshow, moves his way through the room. This bar, or music hall, or antique shop, is the current evolution of his old place, Scrap Bar, on the other side of the bridge. A young scoundrel approaches him and asks, “How much for the broadside?” broad siding Steve, who has been chatting near the bar. Steve answers with a, “Wehhhhhhll” and then, “Three dollars.”

“It’s amazing to hold history...or, uhm, something like it.” Steve smiles. “I guess,” he says, “if you like that sort of thing.” Behind the bar the lady pours wine—or “good wine,” and everyone’s lips turn red.

The scrapheap backyard is lined with spare parts and someone dancing on a makeshift stage. Two barbeques burn. A man with a romantic accent speaks of movie making to his new students. An opera singer hits a high roaming note inside. Someone laughs at all this conversation.

Yes, sir, the women in wooden sunglasses do speak sweetly of Joy Division, but there is a quietness about them that makes it quite clear they mean no one no harm. Every place must have its loudmouths, but here they appear much older. The youth, however, unlike somewhere else unnamed, seem so gentle, sick of all the familiar scandals.

On the street, the ladies going by whisper of hipsters inside to one another with their “there goes the neighborhood” and “oh me” and “oh my”; but they are wrong. The frantic 21st Century collage of Goodbye Blue Monday is the frantic 21st Century collage that is also called Brooklyn. This is what Brooklyn looks like now. It is where the industrial histories and electric music meet, where the rich kids wear rags and where everyone tends to dance with everyone except for you, you arm crossers, you faux-pas floozies. Go wash out your eyelids! The circus has come to town.

You can get more info at www.goodbye-blue-monday.com


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How to Put Together a Film Festival

By Katie DeWitt

It was no Cannes, nor Sundance, nor even Brooklyn Film Festival. With a staff of six and a selection committee of four, the 2008 Bushwick Film Festival was the epitome of grassroots. Red carpet was replaced by warehouse floors, caviar and champagne by hummus, crackers and Butternut beer, and the silver screen by four sheets taped together on a moving backdrop (the real screen had been stolen Friday evening). Yet over 30 indie film supporters joined the filmmakers and event producers each night to sit back on floor pillows and folding chairs, relax among minimal air circulation or ventilation, and enjoy the show.

In its second annual iteration, the Bushwick Film Festival ran from August 22-24 at three different arts venues off the JMZ—it used to be the L, but artists are fleeing farther south for cheap space these days, co-founder Kweighbaye Kotee noted. The festival featured 20 films from local, national and international filmmakers as well as visual art, music performances and, in true Bushwick style, free food.

The films ranged from silent shorts to music videos to full-length documentaries, and the intimate setting of each venue allowed for a Q&A session with the filmmakers directly after their films were shown. The festival closed with a display of shorts from headliner Aldo Tambellini. A Brooklynite by way of Syracuse, Italy and Notre Dame, Tambellini spent seven formative years in a Williamsburg loft that became the subject of one of his most important pieces, Atlantic in Brooklyn.

But the real stars of this year’s festival were Kweighbaye Kotee and Laree Ross, founders, funders, marketers, judges, set-up and tear-down crew, among other things. The duo established the festival last year with the intent to help artistically develop the Bushwick community, celebrate art, music and film and encourage people to create. Kotee has a full-time job at a landscape design firm and Ross at a graphic design studio, but both harbor aspirations in filmmaking.

“This festival is helping us stay connected to the people that most interest us and the work we want to be doing eventually,” said Kotee. “I haven’t had the chance to make my own films yet, so this is a great way to get involved in the film community.”

Kotee and Ross met as students at NYU and immediately discovered their common interest. They giddily finish each other’s sentences as they recount the massive undertaking of producing a film festival on top of working full-time jobs, and the many hiccups along the way.

First there was the issue of finding affordable and available space in the transient world of the Bushwick arts scene—“spots just kept sprouting up and then disappearing before we knew it, just like this evening’s film,” Kotee said, referring to Tyrone Tanous’ Rates of Change. The film, which follows a group of artists, who were priced out and subsequently decided to destroy their Boston studio, and their reflections on the definition of change several years later.

The festival team, which also includes Managing Director David Malik, Technical Director Kyle Bruder, Operations Manager Isabel Steuble-Johnson, Art Curator Anne E Kyle, and Public Relations Director Jenn Edmondson, finally settled on a diverse set of venues: Goodbye Blue Monday, a Bushwick establishment, The Market Hotel, a former Dominican speakeasy that has become a staple music venue, and Lumenhouse, a new gallery that also played host to the Brooklyn Film Festival.

The festival received almost 50 submissions, and Kotee and Ross watched every single one. Though it was tough to narrow down to the 20 ultimate entries, one film made their job easier in its absolute obscenity: “it was the first time we ever had to censor something,” Ross says with a giggle, shooting a look at Kotee. No more details were shared about the content of the film.

The selecting committee set no distinct parameters for judging the entries beyond “experimental” and “edgy.” They pushed for more nontraditional films such as music videos and silent shorts than last year. Three of this year’s selections were return artists from last year’s festival.

And then, of course, there were all the logistics behind the three-night event itself. When asked what the hardest part of running the festival was, the girls’ synchronized guffaws indicated there were too many to count. In good spirits, they recalled the previous evening’s mysterious screen robbery and the two hours they spent leading up to Saturday’s showing creating a makeshift screen out of four sheets and whatever else they could find lying around the Market Hotel.

The team’s creativity and persistence paid off, as no one in the audience seemed to mind that some of the shadows they were seeing on screen were not aesthetic decisions of the filmmakers but rather the point at which two sheets clumsily overlapped. And what the team may have lacked in the appearance of professionalism on Saturday night, they made up for in their newly acquired title as an incorporated organization.

“We actually became legit this year. We’re incorporated and have a printing sponsor and everything,” Kotee said.

Not bad for a part-time hobby. Not bad at all.

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Oulu
Northside Goes Scandinavian

By Megan Battista

Finally, a bar in Williamsburg that has all the makings of becoming a great drinking hole without pretense, catering not to a specific scene, but, instead, a clientele…a clientele, which, sadly, most places in Williamsburg seem to overlook in their attempts to be the next ironic cool space. Yes: Oulu seeks out drinkers.

It just so happens to look pretty bad-ass inside. If you can, imagine a rustic version of Ikea furniture, primarily of cherry wood, in a modern space, offset by the type of warm low-lighting that makes everyone look good (well, almost everyone). Definitely a far cry from the previous occupant of this space, Funland.

Oulu’s name and elements of its design were inspired by the sixth largest city in Finland—a place the owners, married couple Ande Bordages and Anthony Pace, have admittedly never been. Anthony said he took on this look to create his “a cabin in the woods.”


photo by Larry Lonkero

“Finland: it has always seemed to me to embody the remote and unknown and exotic,” explained Anthony. “Not like most think about being in, like, the South Pacific, which is now more accessible than ever, but rather exotic as in, ‘What goes on there? Who has been or can tell me what it is like?’”

While Anthony admits people are initially drawn to the really “pretty” design aspects, he thinks it’s the amazing handcrafted drinks and staff that make Oulu truly a hidden gem.

“The emphasis is on creating a warm welcoming environment with delicious cocktails and excellent service,” he said.

Thanks to co-owner Ande, you can sip on such favorites as the “La Palapa,” a cilantro-infused vodka martini with a sugar and spice rim. Ande also comes up with a seasonal martini: in the summer, it was a tangy apricot tea drink. Another big favorite with clients is the “Kentucky Goddess,” an amazingly smooth blend of bourbon and Pomegranate molasses. Unfortunately, there is only one Finnish beer (Sinebrychoff), but the amazing cocktails and well stocked bar (including other domestic and imported beers) make up for it. And if the drinks don’t keep you planted in the oversized plush chairs scattered throughout, then the mellow and diverse selection of indie music will.

By the winter months, both Ande and Anthony are hoping to have their private backroom open and possibly mix-up their DJ weekends with a bit of jazz on Sundays.

Oulu
170 North Fourth Street

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