Remembering Sharkey’s and ‘up front’ in Norco

Described as the “best equipped bar in the South with 40 feet of mahogany,” Sharkey’s stood at the corner of Apple and River roads in Norco for years and faded into history like many downtown establishments.

Then, years later, it reappeared in a 1941 photograph with “Proprietor” W.M. Montero standing behind the bar.

“My dad frequented Sharkey’s,” said Deanna Weber (then a Bergeron and now 80 years old) who lived in Norco. “Growing up, I went into Sharkey’s bar more than one time to haul him out saying, ‘Mother isn’t going to let us eat Christmas dinner until you come home.’”

And there were plenty of times she was a mission from her mother to fetch him from there. One of those times, she recalled going in to tell him, “Uncle Claude died.”

“Up front” in Norco where Sharkey’s bar stood in the downtown.

Sharkey’s Bar was a time capsule of culture in the heart of Norco.

Weber recalled being amazed over the large pictures of dogs gambling on the walls.

“I don’t remember it being a bad thing,” she said. “It was just a place my dad went to drink.”

It was just the place her father and other dads (fellow workers from Shell) stopped to have a drink after a shift at Shell, as well as one of the landmarks in Norco.

“Unless you were going to college to be a doctor or lawyer, your dad worked at Shell,” Weber said. “That was where you were going to work.

The Montero family was part of the community.

Weber recalled Mr. Montero’s wife was her sister’s godmother, and she Montaro’s youngest daughter were friends.

Born in 1938, Weber recollected the bar being a fixture in the downtown. It was along Apple Street and River Road, which Weber remembered as a very different place than it is today.

“We played jacks and jump rope on Apple Street,” she said. “That’s how few cars there were at the time.”

The downtown was “up front” or the place they’d go to, which Weber considered an important part of her childhood that her children and grandchildren missed out on. Going up front meant sitting on the levee, getting their hair cut or even visiting neighbors who invited them to lunch or supper.

“It was almost like everyone was related,” she said. “And it was a time when we were more social. Norco has been so good to us. Between the river, Shell and up front, that was our life.”

The relationship between community and company was close, too.

“People kept their horses on the Shell refinery around the big tanks,” Weber recalled. “Shell was a main thing in our lives.”

Even so, Norco was a busy place thanks to Shell’s public amenities including a tennis court, swimming pool, bowling alley and movie theater provided by Shell on its grounds, Weber said.

“We had a lot to do in this little, biddy ole town,” she mused. We slid down the levee on cardboard boxes, she said. “I used to go to my uncle to pick up shrimp boxes.”

Someone questioned her doing that with no shrimp in the river, but Weber said there were river shrimp and they caught them. They were small, but were a tasty addition to gumbos.

Weber added, “To live in Norco is to love Norco … with Shell being a big part of that.”

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1 Comment

  1. Of course there were shrimp in the river. Pollution hadn’t yet taken over and many people set out baited shrimp boxes with wire funnels at each end. There was not much river traffic at the time, so the shrimp box stakes didn’t get pulled out of the river bottom by waves. I don’t remember potato stew or butterbeans ever being cooked without river shrimp. In the winter people used dried river shrimp that cost 10 cents a pack.

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