Sour Mouse Brings a Fresh Take on Pool in NYC

In New York City, and Manhattan in particular, the number of pool rooms have been steadily declining over the last few decades. With ever-rising rent prices and increasingly-competitive markets, it could be said that opening a venue for pool in present-day NYC would be a bold move. When factoring in the added challenges of operating a small business amidst a global pandemic, bold might be considered an understatement.

Despite these seemingly daunting conditions, lifelong pool enthusiast and NYC native Aaron Ho opened the doors of a new space for pool called Sour Mouse NYC, in October of 2020. With its location in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, one of New York’s top neighborhoods for nightlife and entertainment, the concept Ho created for Sour Mouse combines pool and other social games with a space for live music, stand-up comedy, and art.

“We are not just strictly a billiard hall,” Aaron Ho explains, “We also have live music, and like a lot of other places, we also have ping pong tables and foosball. Our focal point is really the combination of everything. It’s the live music that creates the ambience… so it’s more of a lounge than a traditional pool hall.”

However, pool has always been a passion for Aaron, and he has had a longstanding interest in the game. “I grew up playing a lot of pool and going to Steinway, my cousins brought me there at a very young age. When I was in high school, we played hooky and went to Amsterdam. I was living in Staten Island and my friends would drag me out there… it was like a three-hour commute, but it was always worth it. We always had fun playing pool,” said Aaron.

Sour Mouse Owner Aaron Ho

To bolster the quality of their in-house leagues and tournaments, Aaron enlisted former Brooklyn pool room owner and longtime player Gerard Kammerer to take the reigns as director. Bringing his decades of experience in the industry to the table, Gerard has become an asset to the business through his knowledge of both pool equipment and players’ interests.

Although he has an old-school background in the NYC pool scene and experienced the era of the likes of Cicero Murphy, Gerard Kammerer recognized the need to modernize pool spaces and bring in a variety of offerings for patrons, in order to make a viable business model. “What attracted me was the mixed entertainment environment, that’s what you need,” Gerard stated.

While discussing the types of leagues and events that would be hosted there, Gerard pointed out some aspects that would set Sour Mouse apart from other options in NYC. “What Aaron is doing, which is tremendously generous, is that there will only a be a $10 weekly fee for the league, and he covers all the green fees, so it’s a 100% payout. I don’t take any money, he doesn’t take any money. I want to attract players to his room and get players to be comfortable in the environment and on the equipment, to make them regular customers,” he explained. Additionally, their goal is to make the leagues and tournaments accessible to players of all levels, from beginner to advanced, and foster an environment for learning and advancement.

With the recognition that pool halls and other spaces for both competition and social interaction have been dwindling in NYC, Aaron is seeking to create a fresh platform for pool that would also engage a larger audience through a range of other activities and opportunities to socialize.

“My idea was really to help revive the sport a bit. But we know that it needs to be more than just pool. There needs to be another element, otherwise we would suffer the same fate as a lot of these traditional places,” Aaron said.

Aaron Ho’s vision for Sour Mouse began years ago, when he owned a cafe in the Lower East Side. “We did a lot of community events, we did paint nights, comedy nights, and live music. They were always free, and really brought people together. I always thought, if there was a way to stretch the walls, I would have put a pool table in there.”

Eventually, Aaron and his team decided to embrace the idea. In 2019, he sold the cafe and began working toward opening Sour Mouse, getting approval for a liquor license and signing a lease for a space the following month. Six months later, renovations had been completed and they were ready to open in March of 2020–when disaster struck NYC with the city-wide COVID-19 shutdown, putting a hold on their plans for opening.

“It was definitely tough, because Cuomo (the governor at the time), with good reason, shut the city down from March until October. So we weren’t able to open. And finally, in October, they said let’s allow indoor establishments to open, but then they closed us down again after six weeks. So, we really didn’t open until March of this year,” Aaron said.

Through the strength of community support of the new space, Aaron and his team were able to hold out and move forward with their vision for Sour Mouse NYC, in spite of the challenges of the pandemic. “We have been able to persevere through all these obstacles because I think we are doing something that’s beneficial to the community. Whether it’s the pool community or the local community, we get a lot of support and people spread the word and promote events at our space. We’ve hosted professional meetups, we have music collectives, art shows… and with Gerard, we have our pool tournaments and we’re trying to create a buzz for our pool leagues. So, its events like these that have helped us to stay afloat.”

As in communities everywhere, the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in the shuttering of many small businesses and venues in NYC, and part of Aaron’s hope is to help revitalize these groups who have been negatively impacted. Sour Mouse will be providing a new space for them  to practice their crafts as well as offer new employment opportunities for people in the neighborhood. The space will also offer something unique for the area, in that Sour Mouse is taking an “all-ages” approach and will be accessible to families, making it a safe place to bring kids.

At its core, the vision for Sour Mouse NYC looks to focus on community-building and being a platform for people to connect with one another, which Aaron Ho sees as a much-needed thing in today’s world. For him, pool is a great vehicle to provide an opportunity to connect.

“I love fact that pool is really a social sport. You’re not just staring at a screen and zoning out, you’re actually engaging another person. Whether you’re going to the space with them or meeting someone in competition, I love that social element. That’s what Sour Mouse is all about. We don’t have any TV screens, we want people to enjoy that opportunity to interact with one another. I think that in New York City, that’s so hard to find.”

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This article originally appeared in the October 2021 issue of the Billiards Buzz Online Publication.