Sharkey’s Grinder, despite the name, did not sell sub sandwiches, gyros, or grinders. The name was left over. For two years it was the Wild West for topless bars all over Virginia.
Dr. Marion Eastham and a local loan shark opened the first topless joint in the region. They called it Sharkey’s for the loan shark and Grinder for the pole, table, and lap dances. The dancers went when the law changed, but the name stayed.
Sharkey’s was noisy and smoky, with the usual crowd of drinkers, posers, cheaters, and regulars.
Unlike the fictional Potomac County, there could not have been a Sharkey’s Grinder in the Rappahannock of my youth. A dive like Sharkey’s would need a more hard-drinking, hell-raising, and homogeneous crowd than any one Rappahannock community could have provided. Rappahannock had, in the 1960s, some bars, beer joints, public dance-halls, and other similar places, but none that could pass for Sharkey’s.
The idea of Sharkey’s, however, with its topless waitresses and pole and lap dancers, isn’t pure fiction. These places did spring up around the normally staid and conservative Commonwealth of Virginia due to inaction by the General Assembly.
The General Assembly had passed no law prohibiting such establishments, probably because the legislators could not imagine that such a law would ever be needed. But if there is blame, it is not just with state lawmakers; local governments as well were without specific prohibitions on nudity in public establishments. All authority takes time to recognize and act to meet a need.
Within a very few years, state law and local ordinances forced the topless joints to put on clothing, shut down, or become the “members only” private clubs that are still around today.