Julian’s: an old-school pool hall in Union Square

When the 1920s theater at 138 East 14th Street bit the dust in 1997, more was lost than just the Palladium nightclub, which had occupied the space in the 1980s.

On the second floor was the cavernous Julian Billiard Academy, run since 1933 by the Julian family but operating as a pool hall since 1916. Until Julian’s shut its doors in 1991, it was New York’s oldest billiards room and once one of hundreds across the city.

Julianswarehousemagazine2

“Old school” is the way ex-customers describe it. Like the rest of this stretch of East 14th Street, it was slightly seedy but safe, attracting “students, actors, businessmen, and bums” and providing “safe harbor at most hours of the night and morning.”

What brought it down? High rent, of course. According to a New York Times article, it went from $300 a month in 1933 to $6,000 in 1987.

”I don’t know what I will do when my lease is up in four years,” the 53-year-old owner [Ron (Julian) Hickers] said as he looked out the window at a luxury apartment building rising across East 14th Street. ”I may just hang it up and go to Florida.”

Today, 138 East 14th Street is the site of NYU’s Palladium Hall dorm.

Here’s a link to a terrific grunge-era photo of the entrance of Julian’s, from a blog called The Devil Wears.

[Top photo: Courtesy Warehouse Magazine]

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24 Responses to “Julian’s: an old-school pool hall in Union Square”

  1. S.S. Says:

    This building is another of the destruction of NYC culture by NYU (the Bottom Line, e.g.), whose pitch to potential students is how downtown is full of culture.

    Before it was called the Palladium, the disco, the building was for years the Academy of Music, home to the Stones first US tour in 1965, as well as The Band, Kiss, Iggy Pop, Blue Oyster Cult and others – as well as Julian’s.

    Instead of pool at Julian’s, NYU students prefer beer pong, to the detriment of downtown.

  2. WHAMMO! Says:

    “Seedy but safe” is an apt description. Went there a few times back in the 80s and most of the pool & snooker tables looked like they were original.

  3. mykola (mick) dementiuk Says:

    Julian’s pool hall was always there. I played in the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s, and I wasn’t a very good pool player but at least it was a place to go when you had nowhere in the big city to go to. I wonder where losers end going up nowadays?

    • mykola (mick) dementiuk Says:

      I just remembered at the basement level at the bottom of Julian’s stairway was a tiny bowling alley 3 or 4 lanes. This was in the early 1960s and they had these black guys setting up the pins by hand, of course, some smart aleck Italian Mafia wannabe would ‘accidentally’ toss his bowling ball at the black guys, that would set the up the dago wops into hoots and hollers. I did watch them but never participated. Oh, the things you see at night… Gone forever…

  4. Force Tube Avenue Says:

    The Men’s room at Julian’s in the ’70s was one of, if not the, most disgusting public restrooms in New York. In the ’70s, that was saying a lot.

    • mykola (mick) dementiuk Says:

      It was gross but not that bad, you had to try Clancy’s Bar right across the street at 14th & Irving Place, for the vomiting pits, ugh! Went in once up the stairs and never went back, that place would have you renounce alcohol and find religion very fast. Again, ugh!

  5. The Day | Tap-Dancing Sheep! - The Local East Village Blog - NYTimes.com Says:

    […] The site of NYU’s Palladium Hall was once home to “the cavernous Julian Billiard Academy, run since 1933 by the Julian family but operating as a pool hall since 1916. Until Julian’s shut its doors in 1991, it was New York’s oldest billiards room and once one of hundreds across the city.” [Ephemeral NY] […]

  6. BabyDave Says:

    Julian’s was a fine place. If someone considered it seedy, that someone probably had misgivings about all of 14th Street. (Though I must concede that at a time in my youth, 14th Street and Third Avenue was indeed a corner to be on one’s toes, if not necessarily on one’s guard.)
    One might have called Julian’s grubby, or one could consider that it had acquired a patina over the years. Some might have considered many of its regulars lowlifes, but those characters were a part of what makes this city so diverse and vibrant.
    Have I given myself away — that I really miss Julian’s?

    (By the way — thanks, Mick. I couldn’t remember the name Clancy’s. I had more than a few cold ones there before shows at the Academy of Music.)

  7. EV Grieve Etc.: Mourning Edition « NYC Real Estate News Says:

    […] Remembering Julian’s on East 14th Street (Ephemeral New York) […]

  8. jordanzig Says:

    also, this was where The Clash’s iconic cover shot for “London Calling” was taken (Paul Simonon smashing his bass)…a shame. NYU needs to slow the f*#%k down.

  9. artsink Says:

    Ahh…. learned to play pool there when I first moved to NYC; the Clash, Elvis Costello at the Palladium…
    Julians was also where The Hustler was filmed, so I can always relive it.

  10. ledamato Says:

    For those of you who really miss certain things about NYC, like the Palladium mural, a before and after photo is here: http://www.rhythmism.com/forum/showthread.php?t=72773

  11. Gary Says:

    Loved shooting pool at Julians. The big tables with leather net pockets…the fans blowing…and the “no alcohol” signs at the entrance, but if you put a dollar in one of the coke machines, and pushed the unmarked button at the far right, an ice cold bud would come out. Definitely a missed landmark.

  12. Mark Says:

    I used to play a lot at Julian’s from 1965 to 1970. There was a local hustler there who went by the moniker Pablo or Paulo, memory fails me now, but in actuality he was Polish. I used to play him all the time when I was in the neighborhood. I wonder what happened to him? Probably hanging out at Amsterdam billiards now, but I wouldn’t recognize him. He was a fixture at Julian’s then, and pretty good too, but not nearly in the class of Boston Shorty at the 7-11 club (on 52nd and Broadway) in those years.

    • mykola (mick) dementiuk Says:

      Back in the 1960s there was a Ukrainian pool shark who always beat whoever he played against. A young guy too, by the name of Red, and always carried his pool cue just ready for a game. In the 1970s he disappeared into Europe where he killed a French cop and was put away for life. I was very happy at the time, I had lost 5 bucks shooting pool but to this day I recall I never paid him a dime, of course I stayed away from Julian’s at the time. When I learned that he had been sentenced I breathed a sign of relief. End of story, I suppose.

  13. A pool hall and automat share space on 14th Street | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] An Ephemeral reader did, and he sent this photo, from 1933, showing the original location of Julian’s upstairs from an automat. The building was demolished in the early 1980s to make way for Zeckendorf Towers, and Julian’s moved across the street to the old Palladium building, once the Academy of Music. […]

  14. Real Estate News NYC via Tigho | EV Grieve Etc.: Mourning Edition - Real Estate News NYC via Tigho Says:

    […] Remembering Julian’s on East 14th Street (Ephemeral New York) […]

  15. Henry Says:

    I used to play snooker with friends at Julians in the early-mid 1960s. I can remember the police detectives shooting pool there. They of course wore white shirts, some with bow ties and their snub nosed .38s holstered on their belts. The Big Apple was still the old NYC I grew up around and loved – not sanitized, not regulated to death; just a great place that was what it was. Julians was just a great part of it.

  16. Luke Sacher Says:

    I learned to play pool there in 1968 when I was 8… with my dad, who was a “mad Man”- a copywriter at Ted Bates under Jerry Della Femina… draw and follow, my friends…
    Never mind all the shows I saw at the Academy and the Palladium… including Zappa’s “In New York” Halloween shows, Neil Young, Jeff Beck, Alvin Lee… and on and on… my first show was The James Gang (with Joe Walsh), Vanilla Fudge, and BB King… 1969…

  17. Stephen Says:

    My “buds” and I always played pool up in Julian’s during the late 50s early sixties. We were in our early teens and loved to hang out there. Tables were $1.25 an hour for two players and $1.50 for three to play.

    The tables were magnificent; old brunswicks mahoghany with thick slate tops and a variety of fast and slow cushions. Hustlers abounded in that place and I saw more than a few knife fights break out between regulars and new comers.

    One if my favorite guys up there was a one-legged, one armed shooter whose name I have long forgotten, who could beat the pants off you every day of the week – and always by “just one ball”, be it 8-ball, 9-ball, Chicago, Pill pool, or straight 100 point pool. Man that guy was a great hustler…lol. Took me a few times before I realized I was being hustled.

    The really sad thing about losing Julian’s was the loss of the people and characters that used that place, and of course the hall itself, and I hated when they changed the Academy of Music theater into the Palladium, although I did see Sha Na Na there after they first converted it… but I remember going to that theater on dates to see two movies, a travelogue, a couple of cartoons, maybe a short film, and a newsreel as a teen- I think it $ .50 or $ .75 for evening shows. The loge and balcony were great places to get to know your girl friend :-)

    I remember the old man at the desk really watched the younger guys who were always putting their cifarettes on the rails, sometimes burning the cloth…oh man he would get hot if he saw you doing that…he’d kick you out and not let you back for months.

    I always feel sad that there are no longer places like that around any more. They homogenized pool halls in the late 60s and now they are places to take your girl friend to for a date…too clean for my tastes – no character any more.

    There was another pool place over on 23rd and Fifth and Briodway, down in a basement – only had a jandful of tables but the guys there sure has “stick”. That place was pretty much a “money” place and getting a table you had to be able to defend keeping it, and that meant playing for real money. I think it was called O’Brian’s, although memories from55 years ago get a little rusty.

  18. John Baldari Says:

    We adolescents played there starting in the 50’s. When new house sticks came in you could choose one, rent it for $2 a month and keep it in a holding area with a tiny padlock.

    Three players stood out. “George” ,who ran straight forever. “Prince”, a Puerto Rican sharpshooter you did not want to play 9 ball with. And last and best was a character whose name eludes me. Perhaps not even 5 feet tall (he used the bridge brilliantly), always dressed to the hilt including a fancy fedora, and shot straight as well as I’ve ever seen (with the exception of Mosconi who would play event games at Julians from time to time. I saw Onofrio Lauri get so frustrated playing Willie, he flung his cue across the table into the pack.

    If anyone can remember more about my 3 standouts, I would love to hear about it.

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