Since 1971, Dave Scarce has been coming into the Dauphine Steakhouse in Springfield about three times a week for a soda and some entertainment. Sometimes he eats dinner, but he’s usually more hungry for the eye candy at the restaurant than he is for the steak.
“It’s the first go-go bar I found when I moved up here,” said 58-year-old Scarce, originally from Danville, Va. “They [Danville] didn’t know what a go-go bar was.”
Scarce quickly found out what and where strip clubs were when he moved to the area, and he began frequenting them in Washington, Northern Virginia and Maryland. Even though dancers can go totally nude in Washington and Maryland, the Dauphine Steakhouse remained his establishment of choice throughout the years.
“I got enough people I like to see here, so I don’t need to go downtown,” said Scarce.
Everyone who walks by says hello to him at the Dauphine Steakhouse, and most of the women who work there know him by name. He boasts that even the women he doesn’t tip know him by name, but his days as a regular there are now over, since the steakhouse/strip club, at 6314 Amherst Ave., closed its doors for good on Sunday, July 16.
THE SIGN ON the building implied it was a typical steakhouse, and other than the strangely dark entrance to the place, no one would have a reason to believe otherwise. Through door number one, the walls pulsated to the sounds of loud music coming from inside, and darkness protruded into a small entryway. Once inside door number two, the main door, it was obvious that the place served more than just steaks and beer. Black lights shined down as the main source of light in the large, open room. The darkness inside made it hard to see the bar straight ahead, but it was even harder to miss the stage to the left where partially naked women were dancing for tips.
Due to a Virginia law that owner George Marinokos said was passed several years ago, the club could no longer advertise “adult entertainment” on its outdoor sign. As a result, many families did walk through the doors over the years, and they turned right back around and walked out. Marinokos’ brother, Phil, who has bartended at the steakhouse for more than 20 years, said it bothered him when children accidentally walked in with their parents. He wished they could have let people know what type of place it was before their children’s eyes were exposed to it, but said it never really became much of a problem. “Many of the fathers would come back later without their families,” said Phil Marinokos. “No one ever complained.”
George Marinokos got word last month that the property had been sold and a bank would be moving to the site. After years of short-term leases, he knew the end might come sooner than he and his family wanted. Marinokos’ father opened the business in the 1960s as a neighborhood bar, and nearly closed it down once after only a few years for financial reasons. He needed a way to draw in more customers, and came up with an idea to add some live entertainment to the place. He opened one Monday with three dancers, and the business’ financial woes soon disappeared.
“My parents were deeply saddened [about the closing],” said George Marinokos. “We feel very proud of serving Springfield and Northern Virginia for the last 40 years … we never felt beneath anyone because we run a seedy joint or anything like that.”
The joint may have been seedy in the eyes of some community members, since it was, after all, a strip joint. But George Marinokos said the place was in fact a gentleman’s club, where people could come and enjoy good food with a nice view. George Marinokos said the safety record of the place is nearly flawless, since the establishment had a good, loyal customer base and never felt the need to hire a bouncer in its 40-years of existence.
“My dad always believed you have to gain respect in your own house,” said George Marinokos.
He did make it mandatory, however, for an employee to escort the female employees to their cars at the end of the night. “Everybody gets home safe,” said George Marinokos.
That is one thing the dancers really appreciated, said Jennifer, a three-year veteran dancer at the club who goes by the stage name “Diamond.” She has worked at several clubs in the area, and said the steakhouse was the only place that cared so much about her personal safety.
Diamond was a favorite among at least two of Dauphine’s regulars. Scarce pointed her out as the “cute little blonde,” and Dennis Barton, another regular patron, liked her routine as well.
Barton, like Scarce, said he has been to many clubs in the region and liked the atmosphere at the Dauphine Steakhouse above the others. He liked to come down, have a drink and “watch the women.” Both regulars aren’t worried though, since they will still be able to see Diamond and the other dancers at the 1320 Club just down the street, also owned by George Marinokos. Since new strip clubs are not allowed to open in Virginia anymore, Phil Marinokos said the loss of the Dauphine Steakhouse is like losing a Springfield landmark.
THE STEAKHOUSE had been grandfathered on its existence since the late 1980s, meaning it did not have to close down to comply with the new laws banning strip clubs from opening. The closing of the Dauphine Steakhouse leaves only two gentlemen’s clubs left in Northern Virginia: the 1320 Club and the Crystal City Restaurant in Arlington, and it also takes away what George Marinokos said is “some of the best food in Springfield.”
On July 14, around 7 p.m., the Dauphine Steakhouse began filling up for its last Friday night of business. The place showed no signs of closing, as the dancers took the stage in their skimpy attire while mostly men trickled into the main room. By 9 p.m., every table in the place was full, and there weren’t any open seats at the bar. One glance around the room revealed only two men actually eating dinner there. The rest of the place was too busy watching the dancers, or talking to dancers on break who could be seen sitting with customers at tables around the room. But the food, said the Marinokos brothers, was a significant part of steakhouse's appeal.
"The real reason the food is so good here is because nobody ever expects it to be," said Phil Marinokos, who has eaten a hamburger there almost daily for more than 20 years. "We've got the best burgers around."
The steaks were all hand-cut, and the beef was ground by hand as well. The prices were always able to remain low because the club pulled in so much of its revenue from its beer and wine sales, said George Marinokos. One appetizer, the "strip search," featured a 10-ounce New York strip steak sliced up and served with pita bread and tzaziki sauce. The meat was cooked to a perfect medium-rare, seasoned and tasted wonderfully juicy.
As for the waitresses and dancers walking around knowing everyone's names, that was "just good business," said George Marinokos. Many of them did it to remain friendly, but many of them were just utilizing their skills as strippers.
"It's a talent you know," said Phil Marinokos. "The guys come in here with money, they want to give it to somebody. The real talent comes in getting the money from one pocket into the other."
Another part of good business that the club prided itself on was the respect it gave to its patrons. Whether the customer was a banker, a lawyer, or department store shoe-stocker, inside the walls of the Dauphine Steakhouse everyone had "the same common denominator," said Phil Marinokos.
"We've always respected people's privacy," said George Marinokos.
While the dancers, waitresses, bartenders and cooks will now all try to work under one roof at the 1320 Club, the sweet memories of the Dauphine Steakhouse will never fade, said George Marinokos. His final day, turning the key in the lock to close the doors for the last time, was "a real choking-up experience."