|The Tip Top's taps|
I spend a fair amount of time drinking craft beer in shiny new brewpubs and polished taverns but there are times when I prefer old watering holes that serve nothing but classic American lagers. You can always find interesting folks at these establishments and I like hanging out with them, drinking with them and listening to their stories. I enjoy the time-worn ambiance of these old saloons—the creaky floors and tattered stools, the smoked stained walls, the classic tunes playing on vintage juke boxes.
I think it’s unfortunate that these venerable establishments are slowly disappearing. In our younger days my brother Mark and I would occasionally spend an afternoon hopping a succession of neighborhood saloons that today are nothing but a growing collection of fading memories. A few of those old West Side saloons have survived, albeit sometimes only in name, because renovations have essentially transformed them into completely new entities. The renovations are probably what kept them alive, but sadly they have effectively erased the distinctive character, the unique charm and the appealing idiosyncrasies of these old neighborhood taverns. An exception to this poignant reality is the recent transformation of an old West Side tavern called The Loading Zone into a new entity called the Tip Top Deluxe Bar & Grill.
I have a particular nostalgia for The Loading Zone because it was one of the three drinking establishments in which I had been strongly advised to leave. In an effort to keep my reputation unsullied I won’t go into details. I will say, however, that one of the other times was in an establishment Up North and was in actuality simply the result of condemnation by association. The incidents at the Loading Zone and in a Kalamazoo establishment that shall remain unnamed on the other hand were completely my fault.
In transforming The Loading Zone into the Tip Top Deluxe the new owners gutted and redecorated the inside and replaced the worn and tattered furnishings. The outside was also given a much needed facelift. But despite the cosmetic changes the Tip Top has succeeded in retaining the comfortable feel of a neighborhood tavern. Some of this is no doubt due to the kitschy posters adorning the walls—a Leave-It-to-Beaver-like 50's-era housewife gazing at her reflection in a sparkling frying pan and old Elvis and B movie posters. But there is something besides that, something intangible. Maybe it’s the fact that you have the option of ordering up a can of PBR, Stroh’s, Black Label or Schlitz if you’re not in the mood for one of the craft beers listed on the solid tap list. Could be too it’s the friendly bartenders, the unpretentious but tasty hamburgers, the Patsy Kline tunes and the eclectic mix of the patrons.
On a recent Saturday evening four of those patrons were at a table playing dominoes. A regular who was sipping on a Jack and Coke at the bar told us that he had made millions in the stock market. He also told us that he just got out of jail and that he rents a room in a rundown house across the street. I offered to buy him a drink and he gratefully accepted. After Barb and I downed a couple of pints of Dark Horse Crooked Tree we drank a Schlitz tall boy and sang along with Patsy.
The Tip Top Deluxe is located at 760 Butterworth Street in Grand Rapids and also features a wide variety of live entertainment. Their website is currently under construction but you can visit their Facebook page or call 616-272-3910 for more information.