I’ve been on a bad run at poker for the last month. So bad, actually, that it nearly wiped out my profits from a terrific September and October, and prompted me to take a break. In part, it’s just poker. The swings have always been an element of the game. But it reminds me that poker in New York isn’t what it once was. It’s tougher to consistently beat the game and make money at it. It isn’t as much fun. It’s more dangerous but less exciting.
I don’t know if I should take this as some kind of omen, but tonight Alice and I were coming home from a party, riding in a cab along West Houston Street, and as we were going along, she said, “Oh, look, that’s new. The Folly.”
I looked out the cab window. Big red script letters spelled out “The Folly” over a blacked-out window.
“Holy shit,” I said. “That used to be the Genoa Club!”
“That was it?” said Alice, who had only been able to imagine where I was on all those absent nights. “Really?”
I nodded sadly. “Now it’s The Folly.”
“Hmm,” she said.
Maybe I should be reading something into this. Maybe poker has always been something of a folly, however much I might have loved it. Or maybe that’s just what it’s become. Because once upon a time I had really loved it, and I had especially loved the little hole-in-the-wall social club a couple of steps up off the street with the little brass plaque that said “Genoa Football Club.” The action was always nuts there, an assortment of crazy-assed gamblers from all walks of life, just waiting to hand over their usually not-so-hard-earned money to those of us who knew how to extract it. Artie, the bent-nose owner; Elias, his badass Syrian partner, who reminded me of the cheerful white-haired spy who helps James Bond sight a rifle in From Russia with Love. And Ricardo, the chef, who made the meanest bowl of spaghetti with red sauce in all of New York, and who one night slashed Edgar’s arm with a butcher knife after an angry dealer flipped over a table and got into a wrestling match with Elias on the beer-soaked floor.
It was a real place, with character and characters to spare. But it’s long gone now. Shut down in the crackdown after Frank DeSena’s murder. Now poker in New York is like a fifth generation xerox of itself, all the sharpness and character gone, a sorry imitation of what it once was, just a big red sign telling me it’s a Folly.