Scary Bar Project: 128 Billiards

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Somewhere near Chinatown’s bloody meat purveyors and dubious massage parlors, there’s a pool hall with a reported wetness problem.

“It’s a totally intimidating place,” said one petrified local in a Villager article of 128 Billiards, adding the key fact that teenage customers sometimes spit on passersby.

Hey, everyone’s been hocked on once or thrice, right? Wrong. 128 Billiards—its numerical moniker comprised of colorful pool balls—step right up and meet the Scary Bar Project.

I often sauntered past this dark eight-ball haven, quickening my pace when passing the teenage hordes. Their wild-horse hormones, multiplied by pool’s competitive juices, create a cocktail more frightening than the apple martini. Or 128’s faux-stone facade. What secrets and horrors lay inside?

One eyeball-freezing evening, armed to the teeth with pens, I yank open the door … and discover the Enchanted Forest gone Maui by way of Home Depot. Wooden paths and green Astroturf. Picnic tables. Dancing flames projected onto a wall. A greenhouse worth of plants dangle from visible metal rafters. Plus, there’s a fish tank brimming with brightly colored, disinterested creatures. Like my bartender.

“Peanuts or goldfish?” asks my young, doll-faced drink-slinger. Her iPod overwhelms the room with treacly foreign pop: Imagine a sugar-high Justin Timberlake singing with marbles in his mouth.

I select nuts and ponder my poison. There’s no liquor, save for small sake bottles (about $8). But there is ramen-and-
sausage soup ($5), a sugary array of wine coolers and bottled Heineken, Corona and Tsingtao. I order one ($5, with a second freebie until 7 p.m.) and scrutinize the bar. It’s apparently designed by a psychotropic-popping naturalist.

The base is ringed by glowing beer bottles and a see-through diorama of rocks and similar effluvia. Behind it looms a craggy mountain covered in droopy plants. The mountain’s center is a slowly dripping waterfall, like a teenage girl weeping.

The separate pool room is well-lit, with about 10 pristine felt-topped tables ($12 per hour). A good-looking crowd of gelled-hair Chinatown-ers and several dreadlocked hippies are intently pocketing balls. I try to stir up competition but am ignored like a screaming subway preacher. So I retreat to the lavatory. I’m immediately smacked—by the air freshener’s floral scent. Bah. Where’s the threat of bodily peril? A hairy cockroach, perhaps? I unzip and perform.
Halfway to empty, my spine tingles like I’m under surveillance. Half-expecting (or is that half-hoping?) a hidden eyehole, I spin around … and face the fish tank.

These future sushi dinners are doing those weird lip-puckering motions, which are given a disquieting context with my pants around my ankles. It is both the evening’s highlight and lowest, most confusing depths. I am finally scared.

“Tsingtao, please!” I order upon returning to the mountain bar. The liquid soothes my inflamed nerves, but alcohol can only comfort so much. I cloak my flesh with gloves, coat and scarf and slink into the dark city, where my bundled anonymity will escape the attention of all damp, curious creatures.

Perceived Scariness (on a scale of 1 to 10): 7

Actual Scariness: 4 (Are impure thoughts about fish illegal?)

128 Elizabeth St. (at Broome St.) 212-925-8219

Scary Bar Project ideas? Contact

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