By George J Coelho
Belgaum (Now Belagavi), with all its small-world charm, was hardly a place which had too many attractions. Apart from the Cinema theaters, where we would go for all the English matinée shows, Belgaum, as the saying goes, was a one-horse joint. During our college days, most of our evenings were spent combing the High Street and Church Street and at times winding up for a Missal’ or Dosa at the Globe Cafe.
Around 1955, the adventurous George Phillips of Goje Building, bought the Billiards Saloon at the end of Church Street (opposite M K Swamy bakers) and most of us got hooked on to the game of Billiards like an instant love affair.
I remember it was the late Kevin Pinto, who introduced us to the game. The Saloon was quite close to his house and a peep inside must have enticed him to the game. This was sometime in the year 1958. There was only one Billiard Table in the Saloon and we had to put our names on a blackboard and get to play when our turn came, each session lasting for half an hour. If it was a doubles encounter or a group game like Pool or Skittles, then the session lasted for one hour. Skittles, essentially a gambling game, was particularly popular with the crowd as many players could play at a time and the game required a lot of skill and it provided a lot of fun when a player committed a foul or had his score wiped out through an error.
The Saloon thus became a sort of hang-out for most of us, where it was easy to locate any of our friends. There was a Billiard marker (for marking the scores), who was called Chubbie, who was quite a character himself. I think he was an ex-armyman. He was a small-made man but he was quite skilled at the game and would often act as our coach and advise us on what sort of shot to play. And the game itself had some colourful terms to describe certain shots. For example: A deep screw, when you want the cue ball to come back. Then there’s ‘ Pull back’, or ‘Bottom of the ball’, roughly the same meaning as the screw!
Billiards is a game which offers scope for various types of gambling, Hence most of the games were played with bets and some of us who were spectators used to often put in some side bets on the player whom you fancied to win. Of course, those days we didn’t have much money, so the bets were for a Rupee or even less. However, there were a few with deep pockets who would play higher stakes.
One such chap was Adi Patel a colourful Parsi gentleman who had a ready wit and would always entertain us when playing. He had a lucrative job with ‘Eveready Batteries’ and was always looking out for ‘Bakras’ ! His steady opponent was Moosa – who used to give him (Adi) a handicap in order to entice him to play. It was just like a ‘Tom & Jerry’ encounter, each trying to outwit the other. So, we, the spectators, were kept thoroughly amused.
The Billiard Saloon became so popular that it was almost always full of the young crowd. The game is very addictive and hence many of us got spoilt rotten by skipping college and spending more time at the saloon instead of tackling our studies. Not only that, but to be truthful, the general perception was that the Saloon was not a very respectable place, and that it was frequented by anti-social elements and gamblers, and where a lot of petty brawls took place. Hence many of us had to actually sneak into the Saloon to make sure that we were not seen by the prying eyes of the public. Due to this impression in the minds of the public, you hardly found any ladies entering the place.
Apart from Billiards, the mezzanine of the saloon was often used to play cards such as Rummy or even the 3-card Flush. More stakes and more players meant more lucre for the owner, George Phillips. The Saloon became such a regular haunt that even after leaving Belgaum it had a lot of memories for me and during each of my return visits to Belgaum I would visit the place and see the new crowd and what changes had taken place.
Today, Billiards has been overtaken by snooker which is a much more attractive game. When I look back, I don’t regret having taken up to the game, though at that time I had to face a lot of opposition from home. Today I continue to enjoy the sport and manage to play quite regularly at the Club level. I have even won a few tournaments at the local Club. After a few Indians like Wilson Jones, Michael Ferreira and Geet Sethi started winning quite a few World titles, the game has undergone a major change and it is now viewed as a popular sport of skill and ability and not necessarily a gambling pastime, though the fact remains that at most times the game is played with bets.
Cheers to the game.
0 thoughts on “Belagavi’s Famous Billiard Saloon”
hummm great ya … kaha se mila yeh details
Great memory recall!!,
Yes snooker and billiards is really a wonderful sport
Even I am also having emotion attached to that sport.
yup i remember that place as small kids we would go and watch the game, but never understood what was going on then.
I link snooker.
George J Coelho lovely narration.. loved to read it again and again..
I heard this from my nanny few years ago
I remember the billiard saloon very well. I frequented it often but never was good at the game and a but of jokes for my contemporaries. Kevin Braganza, Joseph pinto Freddy Vaz etal.
In the early seventies whenever I visited Belgaum I used to get curious to see a crowd here in the saloon and the next was a visit to Globe restaurant for dosa dishes.
Interesting!!!!! reading such memories of the yesteryears !! George Coelho !!!. I guess you guys had your own set of hobbies in those days and I had my own to make up for the leisure time in good ole’ Belgaum(now Belgavi). If I am not mistaken there used be a billiards saloon next to the home of (Late) Naval Commander Joe(Navy Joe)& his brother Retd.Admiral(IndianNavy) John Da Silva’s on No.1 Piquet Rd.(Opp Boyce&Co) Camp. Now, I saw there is a udipi eatery housed in that place. Cheers !!!!! Jan Shaikh.(Paulite 1953)
Great article, George. The gentleman shooting the ball in photo is my father, Rolland Almeida. I still recall his stories of skipping school to play a few games with the boys, only to come home to a solid pasting courtesy of my grandmother.
Still likes to get behind the cue-stick every now and then, with the same stylish approach albeit much less hair 😉
Nice article George…. bought lots of vivid memories back of the Billard Salon where we all hung out to get a game or two. Those were the days we will never forget…. specially some guys putting side bets on late Raymond Fernandes better known as Raymond Mosquito to make a few extra bucks. Those were the good old days.
George Coelho mentions about George Phillips of Goje Building who owned the Billiards Saloon at the start of Church Street was stoutly built and riding his motor cycle to the Saloon looked awefully frightening to my eyes then. Billiards Saloon was next to my classmate Mathew D’Sa ‘s house and I could spot my seniors at school playing there.The place was out of bounds for me and I didn’t understand the game at all. There is a lot of maths and engineering that goes into the game – of a ball in motion striking the walls of the table and rebounding either alone or striking another ball,etc. George Coelho and others would have used their skills very much without knowing the engineering that went at the Billiards table.
Brought back a lot of memories…….the billiards saloon was always out of bonds for me….. I was too young than but I remember my late brother Octo Sequeira going there & playing. Sometimes I used to sneek in & when I was caught I would get a few knocks. I sometimmes visit Belgium but it’s not the same. I remember George Colheo & Raymond Mosquito. … though they were all seniors. Those where the days my friends.
Hi Francis good to see your post. Where are you now. Stll playing the drums i hope. Hope you remember me. You can get in touch with me on facebook or on whatsapp my no is 9930812544. Hope to hear from you. Carey Pereira
George – your article really took me down memory lane. I was the last official billiards champ of the Belgaum Billiard Saloon. The tournament closed after I won the championship in 1968 or ‘ 69. I had tbe shield with me till very recently when I gave it away to some small club.
I lost a year in college due to my attendance being far more regular in the billiard saloon, than in RLSI College.
I was in Belgaum in June this year with Madhav Welling when we met Wilson Corriea and Brian Phillips, (son of George Phillips). We had a great time together. Camp hasn’t changed much, except for many more eateries having sprung up. I hope to visit again soon