Last month I attended the memorial service for Jon Stevens, the proprietor of Topp’s Hideaway, who passed away unexpectedly. Topp’s was my once-upon-a-time favorite dive bar watering hole in Windsor, Wisconsin. It was heartwarming to see so many familiar faces from over the years show up all in one place at one time to pay respect to Jon and the establishment he created for us. For better or for worse, Topp’s had a significant impact on my life for nearly two decades. A lot of life unfolded there for me. It marked the beginning of the end of my first marriage, brought me several dysfunctional and emotionally difficult relationships over several years before I met my second ex-husband. The attached hotel is not only where I was once assaulted but also where I first injured my back which ultimately led to my back surgery at the age of 25. I suffered many hangovers and repercussions from bad decisions I made there. I wasted a lot of money, time and energy at that place before I finally figured out what I wanted to do with my life.
For all the bad things that happened there, there were also good things too. It was a place we gathered many times over the years for all sorts of parties: birthdays, weddings, farewells, and everything in between. I met several friends there that are still regularly in my life today. It’s where I learned how to play, and win, pool games. I enjoyed many a karaoke session and Packers game there. Maybe most importantly, it was the place my sister and I really connected for the first time as adults. For all the bad people I met, I met twice as many really nice people too. Topp’s was always a place you could go for a Thanksgiving or Christmas meal, something I’m sure the long haul truckers who stayed nearby appreciated as much as the regulars did. Topp’s was like a second family, dysfunctional as it could be at times.
Topp’s was a place people met, fell in love, fought, betrayed each other, got back together, laughed, cried, confided in one another, and stabbed each other in the back. “As the Topp turns” is how the saying used to go. Folks gathered there to listen to music, dance, tell jokes, argue about politics, and play pool. Some got married and others got divorced. Some started families while others lost theirs. Some of the regulars moved away, some were kicked out, and others sort of just drifted away. Some came back to visit occasionally and others did not. Eventually, new people became the new regulars and so it goes.
Was Topp’s this way because of who Jon was? I don’t know but he did keep a place going that probably would, or maybe should, have gone out of business a long time ago and for better or worse, it was a place that brought people together. It was a place you could usually go back to and find a familiar face. Despite the dark, dingy interior and no-frills atmosphere, it was a special place once upon a time. There was the “one more” chair that kept many a patron past their limit. It was a place that seemed to have a magical pull when you were driving by after work. There were the Walgreens inventory nights which were especially noteworthy some years for the drunken debauchery that was had. Ron’s pajama-themed birthday parties became a highlight of the year for some of the regulars. Tom’s karaoke nights brought together another crowd of die-hard regulars on Tuesdays on and off for nearly 17-years. Packers games and potluck style snacks always took over the place every Sunday during football season. I’ve had my fair share of serious conversations there, contemplated many a life choice, and did my best to think my way through all the problems life presented. It always felt kind of special to walk through the door and know that a familiar face was sure to be found on the other side. How many of us have a place like that in our life?
Topp’s officially closed for business on January 31st at 11:30 PM. The last I heard, it was for sale but I have no idea if anyone will buy it and if they do, what it will turn into. It’s safe to say that we have definitely reached the end of an era. Much in the way we still find a way to love our dysfunctional families, I have a fondness for that place. There are a lot of memories within those dark walls and old bar stools. As we know, everything eventually must come to an end, but thankfully our memories are ours to keep.