We may never know the truth about what happened to Sunnyside’s Paradise Cafe Billiards, but we do know for sure that no one has broke a rack of pool balls in just shy of three years. It’s a story of intrigue, lies and betrayal—while property speculators laughed their way to the bank, many members of the community couldn’t help but feel like they just scratched the 8 ball.
Built in the 1930s, this two-story brick structure was originally a parking garage for residents of the Sunnyside Gardens historic district, when the building used to be covered in vines. Converted to a factory in the 40s and once owned by Dupont, among others, the property did not realize its billiard hall conclusion until the late 90s.
At 26,000 square feet per floor, the main hall had dozens of billiard tables. Along the perimeter of the sunken pool area were air hockey machines, arcade cabinets, foosball and ping pong tables, massage chairs, a full bar and service counter and a two-keg beer tap. Separated from the main area were also two private rooms with stages, used for parties and events. Along the southern wall of the building was a 12-car garage that is now a place where ill-fated relics of bygone joys go to die.
Paradise Cafe Billiards closed its doors in 2013 to no fault of the old building—structurally speaking, it is still in pristine condition. But for all the pleasure that Paradise provided to Sunnysiders, there were signs that things weren’t as peachy as they seemed. Negative Yelp reviews detailed lonely nights where bar patrons couldn’t find partners to play pool; cramped space and errant pillars around the ping pong tables made it impossible to play a normal game; outdated video games bored guests. But at $9.95 per hour for a table for two, most Yelpers felt they got their money’s worth.
Although Paradise Cafe appeared stable till the end, it was their upstairs neighbor that foreshadowed the coming doom best. Pulse Fitness, a “dilapidated gymnasium” according to the Sunnyside Post, occupied the upper floor since 2003. A promotional video, in Spanish, shows the gym and boasts of its modern equipment. But one Monday April morning in 2012, gym members and yoga instructors arrived to the scene of a locked gate and a sign expressing apology that the gym was now closed indefinitely. Customers were furious, many of them having just purchased monthly or annual memberships. Local television viewers heard the complaints of Sunnysiders on NY1. But for all the headaches, no refunds were issued.
Barely a year following the Pulse Fitness fiasco, rumors began that Paradise was on the chopping block too. The Sunnyside Post reported that the building owner had listed the property for sale with the promise that the billiard hall would be out by year’s end. But adding confusion and insult to injury, Paradise’s owner contacted the Post to tell them there had been some mistake—the pool hall was not closing. In fact, they just signed a new “five-year lease” in May. The property owner even got involved to apologize and say the property was not for sale and the whole story was just a big misunderstanding.
Less than five months later the building was vacant. The signature giant red FAMILY ENTERTAINMENT CENTER lettering was taken from the building’s façade and the windows were boarded up. At the time it was stated that the owner was seeking $50,000 monthly rent per floor of the building. But not a single rent check has been collected in three years—bad business by most real estate text books. More plausibly, the building owner saw the writing on the walls of Long Island City and North Brooklyn. Maybe he got a promise the zoning laws would soon change here too.
It is doubtful that any tenant will ever use this building again. What is more likely is that one day the lot will be sold for millions of dollars above market value and the building will be torn down in favor of “luxury” housing units that will rent for hundreds of dollars above market rate. A mile west from here that is exactly what has happened to every single historic building demolished in the past five years.
But as the cultural bandits continue to rob Queens of its identity—and bilk the rich into paying exuberant prices for shoddily-built glass and sheet rock towers—they can never take our memories. All the pool tables are gone, and so is the laughter, but when a Long Island Railroad train passes by on the main line, the pool lamps still vibrate. There is no more beer, unless you bring your own, and one of the catering rooms is filled with rotting trash. Although Paradise Cafe Billiards has served thousands of smiles, may it serve thousands more.
Next, read about other abandoned places and objects in New York City.