65 Years Of Beers At The Tip Top Tavern
Step inside "old Florida" in this historic downtown watering hole.
Much has changed in downtown Bradenton since World War II.
Countless numbers of small businesses have come and gone, come and gone again, and so on. Even the landscape changed significantly with the addition of dozens of new acres on the riverfront, dug up from the bottom of the Manatee River in the 1960s.
Throughout it all, the good times and bad, the Tip Top Tavern, 512 Manatee Ave. W., a small, 1200-square-foot relic of “old Florida,” has remained a constant in downtown Bradenton. It seems to fly under the radar on busy, one-way Manatee Avenue, where westbound motorists zip by on their daily commutes.
It has survived for more than a half century, a testament that a bar can make it in downtown Bradenton without being located on Old Main Street, where five bars (O’Bricks, Cork’s, The Lost Kangaroo, Old Main Pub, and McCabe’s) and a soon-to-be sixth (The Distillery – read here) reside and where monthly Get Down Downtown street parties occur along with other popular festivals like the DeSoto Seafood Fest, St. Patrick’s Day Celebration and Winter Wonderland.
Don Andrews, a longtime regular, reminisced about making his weekend trips to the Red Barn Flea Market and the grocery store followed by a pit stop at the Tip Top. He missed it when it closed to the public for about two years, but was pleasantly surprised when it reopened with newly retiled bathrooms and other small upgrades. But it essentially remained the same; it even felt like Florida last Saturday afternoon with the doors open and the overhead fans humming away.
“I don’t like it when I walk into a bar and freeze,” Andrews said. “Some of these bars you can hang meat in.”
Barry “Grizzly” Jackson took over as manager when the tavern reopened last spring. The Tip Top was one of his first visits when he moved to Bradenton in 1995. He described Tip Top as a friendly, neighborhood biker bar.
It’s distinctly southern, and proud of it. Confederate flags adorn the ceiling. And it warns patrons that they mind their Ps and Qs — or else. A couple signs read “We don’t call 911 here. We handle it ourselves.”
Tip Top serves beer and red and white wines but no liquor. Beer choices include the popular domestics, Yuengling, Rolling Rock and Heineken. It’s a cash-only bar, but there is an ATM inside. The bar also has a video poker machine and a new juke box. Behind the bar is a flat-screen television.
It’s small; there are about 10 bar stools and four booths. There also is a small stage in back for live music when the bar hosts benefits. Outside on a wooden deck are a few more tables. They even have a Facebook page that proudly proclaims, “A neighborhood bar that is BIKER FRIENDLY!”
The hours vary. Where most bars have a schedule of their daily hours posted on the door, Tip Top Tavern has a description: The bar opens on most days around 7-8 a.m. and sometimes as early as 6 a.m. It’s open as late as midnight, or even 2 a.m. It may close during the dinner hour. Sometimes it doesn’t open at all.
“I love it here,” said bartender Becky Hensley. “There’s a lot of regular customers, a lot of friendly bikers. There’s never any dramatics. Folks come by, pop a few quarters in the juke box and have a good time.”
IF YOU GO:
The Tip Top Tavern, 512 Manatee Ave. W., is located in the east wing of the old Miller Furniture building. Its hours vary: See the second to the last paragraph of this story.
AROUND BRADENTON THIS WEEKEND:
- Bring your gear and jam with southern rocker Charlie Whitt on Thursday night at Aces Lounge, 4343 Palma Sola Blvd. The jam starts at 8 p.m. No cover.
- Live music at Tequila Beach Sport Grille, 7423 Manatee Ave. W., starting at 10 p.m. Friday from The Hobies, a rock/reggae band from Bradenton, and Common Ground, a progressive reggae fusion band from Fort Myers. No cover.
- Check out the new beer tub at The Cellar Bar & Hookah Lounge, 4307 26th St. W., this weekend. Domestic bottles are only a dollar apiece from 10-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday night.
- The Sarasota-based Rox Band is playing an “unplugged” show at The Distillery Tavern, 108 44th Ave. E., Saturday night from 10-1 a.m. Get there early for The Distillery’s lengthy happy hour from 2-7 p.m. for 2-for-1 wells, wine, and domestic drafts. Cover: $3.
- Two live music acts Sunday at Woody’s River Roo Pub & Grill, 5717 18th St. E., Ellenton: The Arch from 1-5 p.m. and Howie Banfield from 5-8 p.m. No cover.