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John Lamb, Published January 16 2009

Pool portrait racks up regulars at Billiards on Broadway

Tuesday night at the recently reopened Billiards on Broadway, the biggest hit wasn’t the break of any balls.

Instead, it was new painting of a cast of regulars at the nearly 18-year-old bar.

“Everyone was blown away,” owner Marc Oelslager said, adding it brought “a little color” to the brick walls.

“A little color” is a bit of an understatement. Visitors of the main-floor pool hall will be able to look around the room and spot some of the characters depicted on the 6-foot-by-8-foot canvas.

Oelslager commissioned the piece by North Dakota State University art professor Kim Bromley. The two men met about a year and a half ago when Bromley started taking the game more seriously. They eventually arranged to swap lessons for the painting.

Bromley said Oelslager liked the mural of Fargo-Moorhead personalities on the back wall of the late, great Old Broadway Diner, created by Trygve Olson, whose cartoons often grace The Forum’s editorial page.

Instead of elected officials and local movers and shakers, the pool hall portrait features people who really know how to call a shot. And lots of baseball caps and beards.

Twenty-eight caricatures line the perimeter of the painting. They are “railbirds,” Bromley explained, those who gather around to watch games. Those pictured in corners are employees.

“I’ve played them all and lost,” Bromley said with a laugh Wednesday afternoon, waiting for his lesson.

The middle of the painting features the real heavy hitters at Billiards, including the four master pool players in town: Oelslager, Rory Hendrickson, Dave Mullen and Craig Stainbrook, seen forking over cash because he’s known as such a heavy better.

Also pictured are Oelslager’s wife, Pam (“She beat me last night,” Bromley said), and Mike Page, who plans to open Fargo Billiards and Blues in south Fargo.

“They’re all great players, with the exception of me,” Bromley said, pointing his cue at the image of himself drawing. “But Raphael painted himself in ‘The School of Athens,’ so I had to get myself in there.”

Neither Bromley, nor the Oelslagers, are the most prominent. That would be Hendrickson, lining up a shot.

And Hendrickson is a player in a period of Billiards’ history in the book “Running the Table: The Legend of Kid Delicious, the Last Great American Pool Hustler.”

L. Jon Wertheim’s book details the true story of tubby teen Danny Basavich, who evolved from pool shark to ranked pro.

When Delicious came looking for a payday game, Hendrickson was away, so he turned his attention to the bartender, Tanya Harig.

When Hendrickson finally returned, the two men played an epic game. Oelslager recalled that night in November 1998. Delicious and Hendrickson started at 8 p.m. Oelslager locked them inside at 4 a.m. and returned seven hours later to find them still playing. The games continued until midnight.

“(Wertheim) jazzed it up a bit in the book,” Oelslager said. “But he beat up on Rory pretty good.”

Delicious stayed with Harig above the pool hall for about three months, Oelslager said, but both of those players have moved on separately.

They may be coming back, in some form. Oelslager said there’s been talk about making the book into a movie.

Posters for “Running the Table” would be a nice touch on the brick walls of Billiards, but it’s nice to see local faces in the painting – so you know whom you’re playing against.

Readers can reach Forum columnist John Lamb at (701) 241-5533 or jlamb@forumcomm.com. Read Lamb’s blog at www.areavoices.com