Growing Up In Sistersville Part 2- Kay’s Pool Room
Kay’s Pool Room was a rite of passage for Sistersville boys. Generations of young men have passed through the door on their journey to becoming a man. It wasn’t fancy with just two pool tables, overhead dim lights filtered through cigarette and cigar smoke and the sound of a radio playing the local New Martinsville station, especially if Jack Fleming was calling a Mountaineer game.
If you were a boy in Sistersville or Friendly in the 50s, 60s or 70s you remember Kay’s Pool Room. Its downtown location near the intersection of Wells Street and Charles made it the perfect location for keeping an eye out on all the activities in town. Kay’s Pool Hall even came with outdoor stadium seating using the bank steps of the First Federal. The steps gave you a perfect view of girls walking by, couples and kids lined up for the Paramount Theater, and even being able to spot your mom and dad if they were coming to town to get you. Those bank steps acted as a sentry post for young men to watch over the city streets making sure intruders didn’t enter their sacred areas. There are many stories over the years that originated from Kay’s Pool Room, and I hope this walk down memory lane brings back your own recollections of times shared with friends in a place where everyone felt welcome.
We need a little bit of history about the Peters family to explain the name of Kay’s Pool Room. Kay Peters and S.A. Peters were brothers, and migrated to Sistersville through Mannington, WV soon after the conclusion of WW1. Like most Lebanon immigrants they were peddlers by trade. Peddlers were well known for carrying goods on their backs traveling the hills of Tyler County filling the needs of consumers with a convenient door to door service. The name Kay was short for Kamal, and because Sistersville possessed a large Lebanese community at the time, Kay and S.A. made Sistersville their new home. When they finally settled in, Kay opened the pool room and the rest is history filled with memories.
In those days and beyond, the pool room was open from 9 to 5 daily and later expanded the closing hours until everyone was ready to go home. One thing was certain, there was always a pool game going. Tables didn’t have pay slots for coins so if you wanted in on the action, you saved your spot by placing your money on the table rail. A game was 10 cents and you didn’t have to rack the balls between games. Great guys like Charlie Placer and Timmy Still worked at Kay’s, and racking the balls was one of their jobs. I can still remember the famous words “Rack em” coming up from the two tables in the building. Timmy, if busy, would reply, “I’ll be there in a minute.” You had to wait for him because it was one of Pete Cutsy’s unwritten rules, who was a son-in-law to Kay Peters and pool room owner in the 70s, that you didn’t rack your own balls.
The story I am about to tell I had heard before, but Donnie “Doodle” Cline gave me important details that were unknown until now. This is the famous story of the arrival of Coach Tom Cuppett in Sistersville in 1967. Before anyone knew Coach Cuppett’s identity, he paid a visit to Kay’s. Upon entering, he was greeted by Bill Springer, Doodle Cline, and Charlie Henderson, all juniors in high school and all considered local football stars. Charlie proceeded to challenge the stranger to a game of pool. In those days before the health hazards of smoking cigarettes were well known, it was not uncommon for some high school students to be smoking. During the course of the game, Cuppett began to question the guys about the expectations of their football team. They all three, while smoking a cigarette, responded that they were pretty damn good. Cuppett then asked them who the quarterback was, and Charlie let him know right away that was his position. Cuppett looked at Doodle and Bill and asked, “Do you play?” They responded with swagger, “Yes, and we’re starters!” Coach Cuppett then introduced himself as the new Head Football coach at Sistersville High School and he expected to see them in his office bright and early on Monday morning. Doodle went on to explain, “He ran us to death that Monday.”
Doodle also shared a fond memory of owner Pete Cutsy. Doodle recalled how Pete protected his customers and looked out for everyone. For example, one day a pool shark from Pittsburgh came down with the idea that he was going to hustle several of the locals. Pete knew the guy and put an end to it immediately.
My own memories of Pete are similar to Doodle’s. Pete Cutsy was your dad away from home. He knew everyone and had a genuine interest in what was going on in their lives whether good or bad. Pete knew everybody’s age and he never sold to anyone under 18, which was the legal drinking age in the 70s. Parents could be assured if their kids were underage they were not drinking in the pool room, and when kids said they were going to the pool room, parents had peace of mind knowing their kids would be safe. Sadly not too many places like Kay’s exist for today’s young people.
The bathroom in Kay’s had its own reputation. It was unusual in several ways. It had a window that looked not on the street, but into the pool room. It was believed the window’s purpose was to allow Kay, and later Pete, the ability to keep an eye on the pool tables while in the restroom. Also in the early days there was no liquor allowed, just beer. The window provided an opportunity for the bartender to keep an eye on the patrons, making sure no one was sneaking smuggled shots of whiskey in for personal consumption. The bathroom was also well known for some plumbing irregularities and had a wooden pallet on the floor so your feet wouldn’t get wet. As you can imagine the smell in the bathroom was not very pleasant so you saw everybody going in take a big deep breath and try to hold it until they came out. Although not well known, girls were allowed in the pool room; they just didn’t come in. Eric Peters shared a story about a time when the place was packed, and a gentleman and his wife came in the front door. Eric said the place went from clanging pool balls and loud conversations to dead silence. It was as if the place had suddenly turned into a morgue. Pete Cutsy would never have asked the lady to leave, but Eric thought the couple felt pretty uncomfortable after about five minutes, because they quietly slipped out the front door. Still everybody present that day was in awe of the lady that had the courage to enter Kay’s Pool Room.
There was one other memorable time a woman came in Kay’s. Frank Swisher recalled how he used to take his son Brian into the pool room when he was little. Frank would let Brian stand on the beer cases to play the pinball machines while Frank shot pool. One day while Frank was in the middle of a game and Brian was busy playing pinball, Beverly, Frank’s wife, came walking in. She was carrying the younger Swisher boy, Scott, in his baby carrier. She walked in and sat the baby down in the middle of the pool table. She looked at Frank and said, “Now you’re in charge, I’ll see you later.”
This last little bit of history belongs to the paint crew of Charlie Kerber. Many young men home from college were employed by Charlie in the summer, and he and his paint crew would always go to the pool room at the end of the day. Charlie had one rule, if at anytime during the day one of his painters dropped their paint brush the guilty party had to buy the whole crew a beer at Kay’s. It didn’t take a rookie long to figure out how important it was to hang on tight to his paint brush. After one or two times of picking up the tab for the paint crew, rookies usually got the message loud and clear.
Another bit of interesting trivia about Kay’s surrounds the antique saloon bar. It is believed the bar in the pool room was built over 100 years ago in Shinnston, WV. Its original location was in the Hennachan & Daly Building across the street from Kay’s at the corner of Wells and Charles Street in Sistersville. When the original site became the McCoy Book Store, there was no need for a bar, so they moved it across the street to Kay’s Pool Room. Following the passing of Pete Cutsy and the closing of the pool room, Bill McCoy approached Libby Cutsy, Pete’s widow, about purchasing the actual bar that was in the pool room. Libby and Bill came to terms, and the historic bar currently resides in Bill McCoy’s game room in his home on Catherine Street today.
Kay’s Pool Room was a ritual for area young men with a backdrop almost as familiar as their own living rooms. Friendships were formed and life lessons learned all while practicing loyalty to a place that felt like home. When Pete Cutsy passed at the young age of 56, not only did the community lose a great man, but the pool room was lost as well. It never reopened and closed in 1979. To the families of Kay Peters and Pete Cutsy, we will always remember the camaraderie shared in Kay’s Pool Room and the life lessons learned. And from the hundreds of young men that passed through the door of Kay’s Pool Room, thank you for the memories that still make us smile today.