Not all eateries, it seems, are beholden to our TV culture. Take the Kopper Top, located on Grand Rapids' near west side. There's not a tube in the place. While we're at it, there's also no dance floor or ludicrously lengthy beer list. What the restaurant does have, most foodies will agree, is some of the best grub in the city. And then there's the festive décor, which adds a stunning visual appeal that few big screens can match.
When it comes to interior decoration at the Kopper Top, you really have to see it to believe it. The restaurant is decorated to the hilt – and that's an understatement – for a number of holidays and seasons throughout the year. Reindeer and mistletoe hang for Christmas. Baskets and motorized bunnies for Easter.
Right now, the bar is celebrating the onset of another summer, with flip flops, Hawaiian leis, and an array of beach themed toys.
“There is a sports bar on every corner,” says Don Brown, co-owner of the Kopper Top. “We certainly don’t want to be another one.”
No, the Kopper Top offers patrons a simple place to sit and talk. It's quietly one of Grand Rapids' most authentic neighborhood gathering places. And the restaurant-bar is one of the city's best kept culinary secrets.
Keeping with Tradition
The building that houses the Kopper Top, located at the corner of Fourth and Stocking, has stood for more than a hundred years. Originally built in 1898, the building has evolved over time from a grocery store to a saloon to a bank to a tavern.
It became the Kopper Top in 1972. And today the mom-and-pop joint serves a menu of American-style dishes made with a uniquely tasty touch. There are of course all the basics – pork chops, tenderloins, steaks, and chicken. The pan-fried perch and burgers are standard favorites. The Cuban sandwich adds an international flavor. (The mojo sauce is a must try.) And Grandma Ski's Polish platter pays homage to the neighborhood's cultural roots. Entree prices range from $3 to $17.
“We get a mixed crowd from all over the city coming in here, a very diverse group – from the rich to the poor,” Brown says. “We have a great clientele that keeps coming back.”
Patrons rave about Kopper Top's generous portions and good drinks, Brown says. And online restaurants reviews back him up.
"There's no place in Grand Rapids – or all of Michigan, for that matter – quite like the Kopper Top," one reviewer wrote on dinesite.com, an online guide to local dining. "Besides featuring way above average bar food and friendly service, it's decorated to the hilt and then some for the holidays. You have to see it to believe it."
Indeed, one of Kopper Top's main attractions for people from across the region is the elaborate decorating. Halloween typically kicks off the holiday season, Brown says, with pumpkin heads, ghosts and goblins covering almost every inch of the walls, ceiling, and available bar space.
After that it's on to Thanksgiving, Christmas, St. Patrick's Day, Easter, and Fourth of July. Sometime in the summer, the lights, ornaments, and toys come down from the walls to make room for some 600 pieces of copper that match the copper top bar and give the place more of a homey pub feel.
“One of the previous owners started [the decorating] and we’ve just taken it a little further,” Brown says. “It’s a great way to distinguish the place and bring people in.”
How Long Will the Secret Last
Brown should know. He was once a customer himself. But after a 20 year career at Steelcase, he was in the mood for a new profession. So he stopped in for lunch one day and struck up a conversation with Marc Bohland, who's owned the restaurant since about 2000. After a series of conversations a partnership developed and Brown bought into the restaurant in 2006. It didn’t hurt that his wife Cindy is one of the pub's 13 employees.
"We’re like one big family,” Brown says. “Marc and I are always on the floor talking to customers and getting to know them. It's like the old Cheers – everybody knows your name.”
There is more to Kopper Top than good affordable fare and outrageous adornments. The restaurant hosts a weekly music night on Thursdays, with local jazz guitarist Fred DeGennaro playing tunes that date to the 1930's. The attached Guest House is regularly rented out for parties. And they also offer outside catering, decorations not included.
The restaurant is open Monday through Thursday 11:00 AM to 10:00 PM; Friday 11 AM to 11 PM; and Saturday noon to 11 PM. It's closed on Sundays.
And it doesn’t bother the staff or owners that the Kopper Top is the kind of unassuming corner bar that people pass by hundreds of time but rarely stop in. All it takes is one visit, Brown says.
“Once they try us, they’ll be back."
Photos:Don Brown - proprietor
Booth decorations celebrate the Michigan summer
Exterior of The Kopper Top
Booths dripping with lights
The copper bar at The Kopper Top
Photographs by Brian Kelly - All Rights Reserved