Remembering The Tip Top Café
The following article appears in my book My Marquette. A photo of some of the staff of the cafe is also included in the book:
By that time, she knew the library was closed, yet Ron still did not come home. She suspected he was down at the Tip Top Café, hanging out with his idolizing students. He was always seeking to be worshiped for his mind. — The Queen City
For forty-five years, from 1938 to 1983, the Tip Top Café was a popular college hangout, owned by Nick Arger and operated by Gert Johnson. In The Queen City, Ronald Goldman is a professor at Northern who hangs out there with his students. Since the Tip Top closed before I ever entered college, my memories of it are limited to one visit made there about 1980.
That evening, my brother Danny, our friend Ronnie, and I were to be taken by Ronnie’s mom out to supper and to the movie. The plan was to go to Taco John’s for supper, but Ronnie’s mother said her stomach couldn’t handle eating there, so she suggested we go to the Tip Top. When I asked, “What’s the Tip Top?” she replied, “It’s a place I think everyone should experience at least once.”
I don’t know what I expected when she said that, but I did not expect what it turned out to be—a bar! My brother and Ronnie ran off to play the pinball machines (this was in the days before video games). Meanwhile, I sat in the booth with Ronnie’s mother, refusing to go play. College students were there and I’m sure they were drinking beer. I knew my mother would not want me in such a place. Besides, everything smelled of smoke—a clear sign it was an unsavory bar. We had fish which I barely ate—it tasted like smoke. I was embarrassed and ashamed because I felt I was doing something very bad by being there.
I was much relieved when we left for the movies—we saw Mary Poppins—nothing I could complain about there, and Ronnie’s mom let us sit by ourselves right in the front row and buy gigantic sodas.
When we got home, I felt I had to confess to my mom that we had gone to a bar, but strangely, she was a lot less concerned about it than me.
In 1983, the Tip Top Café closed. The building was sold and became Ten O’Clock Charlie’s for the next several years before becoming Mainely Wood. Today, the building is home to Casualties Skate & Snow, a retailer of brand name snowboards and skateboards, both very popular in Marquette.
Ronnie’s mom had said the Tip Top Café was a place everyone should experience at least once. I had my once, but if I’d had a second, I’m sure I would have liked it better.
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