When Gustavo Costanzo purchased pool and liquor licenses from the city of Providence in 1909, first-class stamps sold for two cents and 46 stars adorned the US flag. One hundred years, 40 cents, and four stars (for New Mexico, Arizona, Alaska, and Hawaii) later, the Costanzo family is still serving spirits and snooker to local pool sharks. On a recent Sunday afternoon, they invited patrons, friends, and family members to their establishment — now the Rhode Island Billiard Bar and Bistro on Smith Street in North Providence — to celebrate this centennial legacy.
"My great-grandfather started it. He passed it to his son, my grandfather, and then to my dad," said Anthony Costanzo III, who now owns and runs the business. With three-year-old Anthony Costanzo IV clamoring at this shins, Costanzo III discussed the pool hall's success. "It's perseverance, it's ingenuity, it's tenacity," he said, "but it's mostly family. With families, you have to work hard to keep a business going."
In addition to the original license to sell "pure spirituous, intoxicating, and malt liquors" on display, the event featured certificates of recognition from Governor Carcieri, senators Reed and Whitehouse, and state Representative Kennedy. Additionally, North Providence Mayor Charles Lombardi was on hand to applaud the family's long run of success. Of the Rhode Island Billiard Bar and Bistro, Mayor Lombardi (who works just a few yards down Smith Street at Town Hall) said, "We couldn't ask for better neighbors."
While there was plenty to celebrate at the pool hall's centennial bash, the Costanzo family kept the pomp and ceremony short. For guests and family, it was mostly business as usual: eating, chatting and, of course, playing pool. "This place is definitely one of the best," said John Bell, a regular who has played "thousands upon thousands" of games at Rhode Island Billiards. "For years and years, this pool room attracted players from all over New England."
The pool hall's eminence, Bell said, is a result of the best equipment (custom-made lights over each table; cloth imported from England) but, more importantly, a tradition steeped with hospitality. "I remember the previous generation — the family of Anthony's parents," he said. "They were such great hosts."
Across the table, Don Clement, Bell's opponent for many of those thousands of games, spoke of the commitment — not just from the owners, but from die-hard players — that has kept the pool hall in business. "Like any other game, this gets very popular for a while," he said, gesturing toward nearby poster for The Color of Money, with Paul Newman and Tom Cruise. "Those wannabes," he said, "they all faded away. The players that really like it stay with it." Eight-ball, nine-ball, snooker, one-pocket — Clement has played them all, he said, as he racked 'em up for one more game. "It's just a great sport," Bell added. "And in a place like this you can really enjoy the history of it."