By Todd Houston
Exclusive to TRRT
This week Rockford Rocked Interviews catches up with former College Inn/Sharkies owner, Rory Colwell, to talk about the Beloit club scene of yesteryear.
Rockford Rocked Interview: Beloit was a hopping place back in the ’70s and ’80s. You owned The College Inn (later Sharkies). What was it that made the scene so electric and fun?
Rory Colwell: How could you not love the bar scene in Beloit during that period of time? You could bar hop by yourself knowing whatever bar you walked into you were going to see close friends. I was just 21 when I opened Sharkies and still smile when I think back about the fun times I had. My circle of friends were all the same age. We were all experiencing the bar scene together. I remember life being a party and the party never seemed to end.
RRI: You bought Beloit’s iconic College Inn bar at a very young age and changed the name to Sharkies. Had you already been involved in the business before that?
RC: Yeah, prior to owning Sharkies the business was operated under the College Inn. I was bartending at the College Inn while I was still attending Hononegah High School. My father owned the Village Pub in Rockton and my uncle also owned a couple bars in the Beloit area. Growing up around a bar was just a normal part of life. I can still remember my brother and I hustling the old timers at the Village Pub playing pool. We also stocked the coolers, mopped the floors, and cleaned the bathrooms. I may have been around a bar all my life but the greatest education I received was the day I opened Sharkies.
RRI: Let’s face it, 18 was a very young age to be legally drinking anywhere. Were the bar patrons well behaved for the most part or was the Beloit Police Department a regular fixture at your club?
RC: For the most part everyone was very well behaved. You always had a few trouble makers who tried to ruin the party for the majority. I enjoyed a good fight when I was younger so I am sure that contributed to the police presence. Bottom line, the police had my back but also put me back in place when I was in the wrong. We both had a job to do and for the most part they left me alone.
RRI: How did the change in the drinking age law (1986 – from 19 to 21) affect the bar’s overall revenue if at all?
RC: The change in the drinking age definitely impacted revenue. You had to be creative, innovative, and think outside the box in order to fill the bar after the change to 21. I was always willing to push the envelope when it came to bringing in business.
RRI: A lot of folks want to know what the deal was with the swimming pool dance floor. Did you ever think about filling it with Jell-O and making some real cash?
RC: The swimming pool/dance floor was awesome! Some people thought I should fill it in and that thought never crossed my mind. The first couple of years the bar was packed. The arena setting added to the atmosphere and gave the bar its character. I still have pictures of hundreds of people packed into the bar surrounding the dance floor enjoying the show. That damn pool was filled with sand, wet T-shirts, oil, and anything else I could think of to make it a party. Jell-O was probably the one mess I was not prepared to clean up. (laughs)
RRI: Beloit and Janesville were absolutely hopping during this time and there were a lot of clubs within walking distance from each other. Did you feel like there was a bit of competition between Sharkies and the other clubs in town?
RC: Yes, there was always competition between bars. We were all competing for the ever-shrinking customer base. When the drinking age was 18 it was a no-brainer attracting customers. When the age increased to 21 you were fighting for every customer you could get through the door. We may have been competing for business but I have a great deal of respect for the other owners back in the day. It’s not easy owning/operating any business.
RRI: What was the craziest thing that you can remember happening at Sharkies during your time there?
RC: We did so many crazy things at Sharkies it’s hard to remember which one was the craziest. I would have to say the “Sharkies Stripper Bus Trips” rank at the top of the list. I would charter two buses under the pretense of taking our patrons to bachelor/bachelorette parties. I would fill one bus with 40 women and one bus with 40 men. I would park the buses at the Rockford Clock Tower telling them our church group needed a place to stop/park before traveling to our final destination. Both buses were treated to strippers of the opposite sex. Both were completely nude shows. They were jammed packed with alcohol and people ready to party. The party would end up back at Sharkies and end after hours. I’m giving you the PG version but I think I’m still banned from chartering a bus from the Rockton Bus Company. (laughs)
RC: Let me end by saying, to this day opening Sharkies was one of the best things I ever did in my life. I still have great friends from those days, great memories, and I wouldn’t change a thing!