If people still played records, one would screech to a halt as my friend and I saunter inside the Tip Top Bar and Grill.
“Hey, how are you doing?” I ask a few dozen faces, flash-frozen in puzzlement: Why are two lily-white young bucks in a low-ceilinged, African-American AARP hangout? Overcoming B48 phobia.
For years, I’ve ridden the bus from Williamsburg to Crown Heights along Franklin Avenue’s corridor of chop shops, towering projects, once-grand brownstones and bars I’m too chicken to visit—like Bed-Stuy’s Tip Top. Usually, nicotine- addicted men circle the entrance, staking out territory with cigarette butts like dogs do fire hydrants.
“What can I get you boys?” asks the matronly bartender, breaking the silence. Behind the Formica bar—the wood edging’s varnish rubbed off from decades of elbows—signs command please pay when served.
“Two Buds, please.” When uncertain of terrain, stick to domestic.
She retrieves icy twins from a cooler, three bucks each (as are most mixed drinks). Fresh-fried catfish sandwiches and handsomely crispy chicken, a weekend specialty, aren’t much more.
“Get the catfish,” offers a man with a bushy mustache, happily chomping.
“Another night,” I tell him. Another night I’ll also find hot dogs and sausages, chips and peanuts. Food starts at 8 p.m. and is served until finished.
The front room is snug and narrow, sound-tracked with soul and R&B music. The dozen bar seats are taken, forcing us into Tip Top’s pleasingly shabby backyard. Cinderblock walls are crowned with corrugated plastic and tarps, while broken fridges gather dust nearby.
“Sweeties, what are you doing here?” asks a 50-something woman with Hershey’s-colored hair pulled into a ponytail.
“Beer,” I say.
Her equally aged friend ambles over and introduces herself as Toni. Toni’s hair is no longer than putting-green grass.
She’s sucking on a cigarette with a sensuality that would belie the coming words.
“What are you doing June 24?” Toni asks, her heavy-lids appraising us.
“No idea,” I say. I have ample difficulty choosing my daily underwear, much less planning the future.
“Well, I’m emceeing a float during the pride parade. Come. It’ll be hotttttttt,” she says, stretching the t like taffy.
“Oh, that’s great. I’ll try to make it.” I say, practicing the NYC art of making plans I have no intention of keeping.
Toni repeats how great the pride parade is, and how we’d fit right in. “And then afterward, we always party at this bar in the Village. It’s hotttttttt.”
“They think we’re lovers,” whispers my friend, a man of musky odor and dubious hygiene. Only under threat of imminent death would I pull down his pants.
We contemplate correcting her assumption, but why ruin the magic? Besides, this interaction merely reinforces Tip Top’s welcoming vibe. Subsequent visits prove it to be a venerable, timeworn dive, filled with agreeably cantankerous characters watching “Wheel of Fortune” and bitching that three-buck drinks will bankrupt ’em. In other words, a place any cheap drunk would love—platonically, of course.
Perceived Scariness (on a scale of 1 to 10): 7; Actual Scariness: 5; Summary: Gay or straight, everyone’s welcome to get drunk.
Tip Top Bar and Grill
432 Franklin Ave. (betw. Putnam Ave. &Madison St.), B’klyn