Every day the residents of Raytown walk by Raytown Recreation without knowing the piece of history that sits right below their feet. Behind an unassuming door that you can miss if you blink is a subterranean pool hall that is the home to the legendary “Big Bertha.” Big Bertha is one of the world’s most coveted pool tables, and everyone from world champion pool players to mobsters have played her. Built in 1913, the rare ten-foot table doesn’t look a day over twenty-five with her bright green top and sleek exterior made from Russian wood that hasn’t been used to build pool tables since WWI.
Owner Don Brink, a world-ranked billiards player, first saw Bertha in the 1940s, when he started playing at Kling & Allen, an upscale pool hall in downtown KCMO. He was immediately taken with her, as were most that played on Bertha. When Brink bought the Raytown pool hall in 1970—no drinking or gambling here, but you can smoke, and games are only three bucks because that’s all the antique register goes up to—he started searching for the table and found it in a Leawood basement.
Brink traded a shorter table and five hundred dollars for Bertha, and she’s been at his hall ever since.
“The last of an era in Kansas City,” says Doug Brink, lovingly tapping the table.