The running joke about The Top Steak House is just as true as it is amusing-the only thing that's ever changed at the Bexley institution is the prices.
The running joke about The Top Steak House is just as true as it is amusing-the only thing that's ever changed at the Bexley institution is the prices. When the steakhouse opened in 1955, $5 could get you a shrimp cocktail, charred rib-eye and stiff martini to wash it all down. As The Top prepares to turn 60 in April, co-owners Regina and chef Denver Adkins, who bought the restaurant with their family in 2006, have planned a year's worth of specials to pay tribute to the timeless classics perennially served here. We asked them to share a few tidbits about The Top that only seasoned regulars may know.
• The plates aren't original, but the maker is. The same West Virginia-based china company has been crafting the white china dishware with The Top insignia throughout the restaurant's tenure. Some guests will ask to buy a plate or two, and the Adkinses keep extra plates in stock specifically for these requests. But that doesn't stop dishes from disappearing, Regina says.
• If it has a Top logo, someone will try to steal it. Plates aren't the only things that go missing. A few years ago, Denver ordered five dozen stemless wine glasses with The Top moniker. They lasted about two weeks, he says. Nostalgic diners don't stop at logoed items. "The picture of the gentlemen in the men's room, of the Rat Pack, we've had people try to walk out with it," Regina says.
• There's a secret door nicknamed the Whore Door. The room in the center of the restaurant was once a private bar and dining area with a rear door to the outside. "There's a secret door you knocked on, and they let you in," Regina says. "They'd say you took your wives to the front bar on Friday and your mistresses to the back bar on Saturday." Then, in a whispered tone, she adds, "They call the door the Whore Door."
• The place is haunted. One night after hours, Denver and Regina were at the bar, every door in the restaurant locked. The breezeway door leading into the restaurant suddenly swung wide open, as if someone had walked through it. Pans and ingredients have also been known to fly off shelves. "You can chalk anything up to coincidence, but it is a little weird that it happens all the time," Denver says. As for who haunts the place, the owners speculate it could be the former longtime maitre d' or a long-ago murdered regular.
• The bar has a craft cocktail list, but the most popular drinks are classics. Perhaps it's no surprise, but the most-ordered drink is a vodka martini with blue cheese-stuffed olives. Second to that are Manhattans, followed by old-fashioneds.
• The house piano player has been playing here since 1964. In 50 years, house pianist Sonia Modes has barely missed a performance, entertaining diners with classic tunes on Tuesday and Saturday nights. "She sits down at 7:30 and does not get out of that seat," Regina says. "She's as sweet as punch. And she's a matchmaker. I think she has like 50-some marriages under her belt." "I've got somebody for you, honey," Modes will say to the eligible and looking.
• The decor is as retro as it looks. "The majority of this place is original," Regina says. The piano is the same. The ceiling is the same, and so are the oversize bulbs and huge saucer that hang in the dining room. The cat sconces that flank the piano are original fixtures from the back dining room. The cappuccino machine in the corner next to the bar loudly steamed milk and espresso until the mid-'90s. "It really is the same feel," she says. "If we were allowed to smoke cigarettes in here, it would probably feel the same."
• Those who don't know The Top think it's a strip club. Both Regina and Denver admit they initially thought the practically windowless supper club was a strip club. And they're not the first ones to say that, Regina laughs. "When people walk in, they are surprised," she says. Denver continues, recalling his first impression: "I wasn't really sure what the hell it was. My first time here, it was really smoky. My steak was really charred. I dug it."
• One of the most popular dishes isn't on the menu. While filet mignon is a perennial best seller, Denver keeps a 45-day, dry-aged, 24-ounce bone-in rib-eye topped with blue cheese almost constantly on the specials menu. "It's never been on the menu, but if we don't have it, people freak out," Denver says. Regina adds, "I've seen it go out with a 20-ounce lobster tail."