Alexander ‘City’ Bryant Part 3: The Journey of an old-time pool hustler

Ryan Miday | 12/4/2013, 1:39 p.m.
Despite the rugged existence of hustling pool for all those years, the passing of his wife in 2008 was his ...

*In the final section of its 3-part series, about one of the area’s most notable pool sharks, the Call and Post examines where Alexander “City” Bryant ranks in the pantheon of Cleveland’s greatest pool hustlers.

The Lure of the Game

Over the four decades of hustling pool, City played alongside the great pool players of Cleveland: Whitey “the Gas Man” Stone, Armond “Herbie Cue” Colangelo, Bo Diddley, Raymond “Dog” Wilson, Miami, Harry Dowell, Billy Stougher, Frank Zumo, Johnny White, Chuck Morgan, and Lavalle Smith. City claimed that Larry Dobby Steele, whom he mentored, was one of Cleveland’s all-time best pool hustlers.

Self-assured and materialistic defined City in his youth. At 26-years-old, he was on top of the world. City was making good money hustling at the well-known poolrooms owned by P.C. Owens, James Riley, and Tiger Brown.

He cemented his reputation as a player’s player, when he entered the rarefied group of Blacks who owned a Cadillac. It was the summer of 1954, and he bought a ‘53 green Cadillac for $5,200. Minimum wage was 75 cents an hour and gas was 29 cents a gallon.

Having money coupled with his charm and intelligence led to City’s fascinating social life. He always had one foot in the poolrooms and after-hour joints, hustling up a living, and another foot in the mainstream, socializing and playing friendly games of pool and craps with people like the mayor and council members, whom he had known from the neighborhood since childhood.

Despite the rugged existence of hustling pool for all those years, the passing of his wife in 2008 was his toughest challenge.

Mayor Stokes had a good game of pool and respected the game. In his autobiography, “Promises of Power,” the mayor boasted that by the time he dropped out of school at 17-years-old, “I was one of the two or three best hustlers in the neighborhood. Pool is a wonderfully competitive game, in some ways a good analogy for political infighting.” The mayor further explained, “It takes a great deal of technical skill, a good eye and a smooth delivery. Beyond that, hustling requires a man to seize quickly upon his opponent’s weakness.”

Mayor Stokes played throughout his life, periodically stopping in poolrooms like the Hippodrome. George Dixon, the owner of Lancer’s Steakhouse, recalled the mayor stopping in at Paul Well’s Billiards to shoot a game.

While mayor, Stokes visited the Ansel Road Golden Age Center and played pool with its residents, in April 1962. The Call & Post captured his visit with the headline: “Pool Shark in His Early Years: Mayor Shows Elders How It’s Done.”

The article’s photograph of the mayor shooting a trick shot behind his back showcased his beloved image: being of and for the people. The mayor’s infectious smile, as he peered at the ball showing off his skills, also reflected his excitement for the game of pool. That same enthusiasm undoubtedly lured many people into believing that they could make a living at playing pool.

The Illusion of Winning