John “began playing when he was 12,” Carol, 76, said of her late husband. “He loved it. He was a pool player.”
But on Nov. 3, after 49 years in business, the Valley Stream fixture closed its doors for good. Its new owners plan to turn it into a catering hall. “It was time,” said the Misaks’ son John Jr., 49, who took over the venue’s day-to-day operations in 1998. He was born two months before his parents bought it.
“All he knew was that pool room,” his mother said.
Guys and Dolls was a popular hangout for generations of Valley Streamers and billiards enthusiasts, and was conceived as a family establishment, Carol said, with an extensive arcade that lasted until the late 1990s.
There were ups and downs, and many memories, the Misak family, who gathered at the hall the night before it closed, recalled.
In 1973 there was a fire, and it took them a year to reopen, Carol said. Throughout the 1970s, a drug epidemic proved to be difficult problem. The Misaks were constantly on the lookout for drug use and sales, and kicked out anyone found with illicit substances.
Carol would often say, “The pool room gave me an education,” adding that she wore three-inch heels to add to her 5-foot-1-inch frame, and often kept a baseball bat on the premises just in case. She was known to sometimes escort people out of the building by their ear.
But despite those challenges, Carol said that she and her husband, a retired New York City police officer, “kept a very tight ship.”
John died in his sleep of natural causes in 2007, at age 63.
“My parents prided themselves on keeping the riff-raff out and keeping it a family establishment,” said their oldest daughter, Lisa Mayer.
In 1983, Rob Gerhardt set the world high-score record at Guys and Dolls for the arcade game Q*bert, at more than 33 million points, and in 1986, the hit Martin Scorsese film “The Color of Money” brought additional attention to the game of pool.
With more awareness, however, came more competition, with River City Billards, in Rockville Centre, and Raxx, in West Hempstead, opening in the early 1990s, capitalizing on the film’s popularity, and putting pressure on Guys and Dolls.
“We took a hit,” the younger John said.
In 2006 he built the hall’s first bar, and in 2010 the hall was renovated for an episode of a Discovery Channel show “Construction Intervention” that never aired due to the show’s cancellation that year. The changes brought a full bar and new décor, but pared the number of pool tables to 10.
At the center of it all were John and Carol, who, in addition to having four children of their own, had hundreds of surrogate ones who played rack after rack.
“If [the teenagers] had a question, they would come to [Carol] oftentimes more than their own mothers,” John joked. “ … They thought she would go easier on them than their parents, but that wasn’t necessarily the case.”
Carol said she also kept a book, for the underage children who came to the hall at night (the age to play pool was 16, but the arcade was open to children of all ages) in which they would record their names and phone numbers for either John or Carol to confirm that they were there with their parents’ permission.
On the final weekend Guys and Dolls was open, employees and patrons, both past and present gathered to reminisce.
“It’s a sad day in Valley Stream and for pool halls everywhere,” said bartender John Porzio, who has worked at the establishment for seven years, but frequented it as a hangout for 25. “I want to thank the town for all the years letting us be here. It’s been a great run and we couldn’t have done it without you.”
“We all have so many memories here,” John’s wife, Marybeth, said. “It’s an amazing place.”
The two met at the hall, while he worked there. She, a Valley Stream native, joked she typically sat on one of the tables toward the rear, which was strictly prohibited.
Longtime patron Kevin Adams, 33, said his father first took him to Guys and Dolls when he was 8, and he fell in love with the game of pool. Later, he recalled riding his moped from his home in Lynbrook to the hall when he was 12. He continued frequenting the hall well into adulthood. “I grew up here,” he said.
While the hall may be gone, its dream lives on in memory. Tucked away in a corner of the hall was a glass case containing the senior John’s favorite pool stick, on it a plaque formerly affixed to his favorite table, directly below.
“Each game of pool played on his special table is dedicated to the loving memory of John Misak Sr.,” it reads, “whose passion for pool, life and his family lives on with Guys and Dolls.”
Guys and Dolls started as a dream.
Purchased in 1970 by Baldwin residents John and Carol Misak, the Merrick Road pool hall began with 24 tables and its new owners’ love of the game.