Brews, brawls and banter

Owners and patrons of the area's former bars knew a trip to these neighborhood establishments always served up some extraordinary experiences.

By Fred Durso Jr.
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 5 | Posted Oct. 20, 2005

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Chick DeJohn did not call his former watering hole, Sharkey's Bar, "the roughest bar in South Philly" without good reason.

"It was like walking into a madhouse every night," said DeJohn, who acquired ownership of the tavern at Broad and Porter streets from his father, Louis, in 1968. Louis opened up shop in 1951.

The tavern was named after Tom Sharkey, Louis' boxing name. Scannicchios Italian Restaurant, which opened in 2003, is now on the site.

Dubbing it a sailor bar due to its proximity to the once-bustling Philadelphia Navy Yard, DeJohn said Sharkey's was a popular destination for members of international fleets entering Philadelphia's ports. Word-of-mouth advertising from these overseas travelers further intensified the bar's popularity.

"They always made a beeline for Sharkey's when they got to Philly," he said.

Bar fights, DeJohn said, were as prevalent as on-tap beer.

"The place was set up where they couldn't do much damage," he said. "I used to let them go at it. When they get all tired, I'd grab them by the arm and throw them out. They'd be so tired, they couldn't resist."

The busiest - and most boisterous - crowds could be found at Sharkey's on payday and the week thereafter.

Run-of-the-mill conversations usually erupted into unusual circumstances. DeJohn recalled one evening when a patron was bragging about owning a boa constrictor. After other customers refused to believe him, the customer went to his home and returned -with the animal inside a trashcan.

Crowded around the receptacle, the group watched in shock as the bin tipped over and the snake slithered its way onto the road.

"It was crawling across Broad Street," DeJohn said. "It took about two or three of us to pick it up because it weighed about 150 pounds."

And the craziness only stepped up during the holidays. Opening the bar at 8 a.m. on New Year's Day, DeJohn's staff would serve the masses that frequented the establishment before, during and after the Mummers Parade.

"It would stay crowded the entire day," he said. "I would normally have two to three bartenders on a busy night. That day we would have six to seven bartenders. It was wall-to-wall people."

Though his bar has served countless libations in its existence, DeJohn admitted he hardly ever sipped the sauce - much less took puffs from cigarettes.

In 1988, DeJohn decided to transform Sharkey's into DiGiovanni Restaurant. The clientele, he said, went from enlisted men to decorated officers. He closed his restaurant in 1999, but still resides atop the building.

Christian Varalli, one of the owners of Scannicchios, said many of his customers continue bringing their appetites and fond memories of Sharkey's to his place. And the resident from Eighth and Reed streets also has a few of his own.

"When I was in the Mummers Parade, I was too young to go in here, but the guys used to stop in here for a quick shot or beer," he said.

DOM PANTALEO SAID he will never forget the location where he and his cousin heard the Eagles defeat the Green Bay Packers in the 1960 championship game. It was at Charlie Mayo's Bar, formerly at Broad and Wharton streets, where the game was broadcast on the radio. In those days, television stations would "black out" home games and later run them that night, said Pantaleo, originally of 15th and Wharton streets.

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Comments 1 - 5 of 5
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1. Tony said... on Dec 10, 2008 at 11:13AM

“My father owned the grocery store at porter and hicks I heard so many stories about the great Sharkey's back in it's hay day. This is a wonderful tribute to a great neighborhood establishment.”

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2. Robspost said... on Oct 24, 2010 at 06:57PM

“I was stationed at the navy yard for about a year in 1959-1960, it seems to my recollection that Sharkeys was called Sharkeys Cafe at that time, a buddy and I would stop in for a beer about 5 or 6pm on some weekday early evenings, I never did go there often and I was never there at night, guess I missed a lot of action. Although it has been 50 years ago I remembered Sharkeys Cafe on the sw corner of Porter and Broad streets.”

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3. Dennis said... on May 6, 2012 at 09:32PM

“I was stationed @ PNY from 1977 to 1979. Me and my buddies used to go to Sharkey's on any given night. I don't remember it as being particularly rough, with the exception of a few occasions. We called it an "Old-man bar". We used it as a starter bar and then head on to the Dolphin or across the river to Jersey. It was even open on Sunday evenings. I remember I could by a beer for $.75 back then. Those were the good ole days.”

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4. Johnny P said... on Jun 4, 2013 at 02:07PM

“US Navy from 1976-1980. HTA School Phila. Naval ship Yard. Attended naval training school at the ship yard in 1977. The night before our graduation we closed down the enlisted mens club on base, and found our way to Sharkys Bar up on Broad Street. Just barely 18 years old, we got ourselves into a Steven Segal movie type bar fight, it was unbelievable. The place got all broken up. Tables, chairs, pinball machine and I think even the front window of the place. It may be closed now but it will always live on in my memories. I had a great time.”

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5. Anonymous said... on Aug 22, 2013 at 04:59PM

“does anyone out there have a picture of the sharkey's sign??”


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