Saturday, February 12, 2011

Top of the Rock, aka Club 911

To keep it interesting, I decided to expand this blarg to also be about places which no longer exist.



If you were a teen in the 80s or 90s in Grand Rapids, I'll bet you set foot in this certain all-ages club out on Alpine Avenue at least once, if not every week you could. The place went by a few different names during it's run. Thunderchicken, Red Zone, DV8... but it would mostly be remembered as Club 911 or Top of the Rock.
It seems a really unlikely situation for a successful club. It was a warehouse-looking building surrounded by woods, pretty far out on Alpine near 6-Mile. There must have been few options for underage kids in those days.
I had grown up in smalltown Michigan and though I wasn't a total hick, I would say I hadn't been exposed to a lot of different culture. When I found Top of the Rock in '87 it was like a different planet. An awesome planet!

I think it must have been a Thursday, which was their "alternative night."  The DJ was spinning stuff like The Cure, Erasure, New Order, Depeche Mode, Love & Rockets, Violent Femmes, Ministry and all sorts of other bands that were completely off the radar of the Top-40 that made up my musical experience to that point. The place was packed and these kids were getting down!  So much unnaturally-colored hair, including the dudes. Yeah, back home, the craziest thing anybody did to their hair is one kid had shaved stripes into the sides, Vanilla Ice style.
I know they did other theme nights other days of the week at Top of the Rock but I never went to any but the alternative nights.


At some point in the night, I remember the music would change to some harder stuff.... I imagine them playing "Master of Puppets" and "Turbo Lover" but I'm not sure if that really happened but a slam-pit ensued. Something I had never really witnessed before, you know, in the country. Bunch of dudes alternating between going in a circle and beating the shit out of each other. If somebody fell down, somebody would always help them back up. They only did the pit once a night and only maybe 3 songs and then it would go back to dance time.
After a pretty unrewarding highschool experience, finding a place like this seemed like a breakthrough.  I went as often as I could.

Many long-time GR residents "of a certain age" went to Top back in the day. The hispanic-looking dude in the left half of this photo happens to be GR bar-photographer extrordinare, Two-Eagles Marcus.

Other things I can remember.... plenty of underage drinking, usually in somebody's car in the lot.
Sneaking people in. The kids who couldn't make the $3 cover would go around to the fire escape door and wait for somebody to open up and let them in.
Lots of groping and making out during slow dances.
Going there "on acid."
Donating plasma the day before in order to have enough money for acid and the cover to get into Top.
I remember the kids always calling it "Tip Of The Cock" har har.
Bands would sometimes play. I seem to remember that Information Society played there but I didn't go that week.
I am pretty sure a kid DIED in the place. I may have actually witnessed this. I remember finishing up on one of the video games in the little game room and walking out to find the music off and all the kids standing around the sides of the dance floor as a kid was being taken out by paramedics on a stretcher. He was mumbling delirious. Then at some point in the week I heard he actually died on the way to the hospital. Never found out what had really happened.


I am not really sure at what point or why they started with the name-changes but I remember in the 90s it became Club 911 and new generations were coming in as other kids were getting old enough to go to bars and moved on to Reptile House or "Alternative A to X" at the Orbit Room.
A lot of the people I still have contact with from back then are younger than me and will remember it more from the 911 era and never went when it was TOTR.

Abandoned, 1998.
I believe they finally closed in 1996, with the name being "DV8."  The place sat there vacant for a couple years. Eventually some time I drove by and happened to noticed it was now something else. Nothing really left to indicate it was ever there except people with stories of our decadent youth, or what we can still remember!


Before Top of the Rock, back in the 70s the place was known as Thunder Chicken. Wish I could've experienced that!

Outside of the building as "Thunderchicken"
Long gone now, the building is now Hanson's Collision


65 comments:

  1. Thanks for the memories Geoff! I spent many a night at TOTR and Club 911. Yes, their was a kid who was killed out there by a sucker punch. I think that began the demise of the joint. I know that one of the DJ's for Thursdays and Fridays was Rick Depas or "Merlin" He's now my brother-in-law. If ever there was a reunion or something, he'd spin tracks, he's kept every bit of music he played there.

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    1. I now spin on mixify.com and plan to spin some retro TOR/911 sets in the future
      http://www.mixify.com/merlinstfuad

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  2. I wonder if anybody knows and could point me how to contact the guy who owned the place. I think maybe his name was Dave? And possibly he opened the classily named Big Melons on Leonard after DV8 closed. I think it would be interesting if he'd let me get him on camera and "interview" him, even if only 5 minutes or so.

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    1. Steve Butler was the manager and person your looking for.

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    2. Bruce, was the owner I can't think of his last name. Steve Butler was as well .

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    3. His name was Bruce Ohlman. Last known to own a few night clubs in Kalamazoo. But not sure if he still does.... that was 20 years ago. :D

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  3. I'll check with Merlin to see if he remembers the owners name. I know it changed hands one or two times.

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  4. The place was great in the early 80's They had some big names play there.
    I can remember Huey Lewis and Holy Smoke for a couple.

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  5. Information Society did in fact play there while it was Club 911. It would have been in 93 if I recall correctly. I played in the opening band and was pretty stoked to meet Kurt and the rest, only to find out he was something of a dick and the entire show was sequenced and poorly lip-synced.

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  6. Geoff,

    Thanks for the memories! My friends and I used to go to the Alpine Church Cemetery, park and imbibe as quickly as possible, then show up at TOTR for the night. The mosh pit (Ministry!), the nightly playing of "How Soon Is Now?" and many shady transactions going down. Ah, hazy memories. I've even pointed to your page from my band's page, as we seek to recreate some of the music played on alterna-teen night: 120minutemen.com

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  7. Thanks Geoff, Here's a song that the Michigan Band Loop D Loop wrote about Top of the Rock, from their online album "The Grand Rapids Songbook"

    www.loopdloop.org/totr.html

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  8. That's awesome, Steve. Thanks for sharing!

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  9. I was there as often as possible from 1985-90. Thanks for posting this and for the pics. An important piece of my life.
    Someone wrote a reasonably successful memoir a few years back that touched on the TOTR days.

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    1. That would be an interesting read if you happen to remember the title or author.

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  10. trying again to post- Hi, I'm Bill from Emotionally Disturbed. Thanks to everybody. People at our own schools did not like people like us. We had each other. We met all our friends at TOTR. I don't remember my old classmates- I remember YOU.

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  11. (Bill)- by WE I meant the people I hung out with 87-90. Alot of the TOTR kids were rejects at their redneck schools. Thursdays were cool b/c their was a place we all met each other and had fun. I'll always kind of cherish that.

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  12. The manager you are talking about was Steve Butler. He was renting the business from the owner Dave (something). Dave owned another club in Kalamazoo near Wings Stadium. The kid that died was drunk and diabetic, he got sucker punched, and sadly went into a coma and died. Tragic really. Incidentally, I was a bouncer there from 1992 until the bitter end in 1996-97.

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    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    2. Top of the Rock and beyond was owed by brothers Tim and Bruce Ollman and managed by steve. Former owner information is just below.

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    3. I think it was in 92. Me and some buddies were there and like five guys started something after bumping into me. One sucker punched my buddy. I took the guy and slammed him into the wall. Next thing I knew...They all ran off. The bouncers locked all the doors...Any white kid going outside was getting the crap kicked out of him...I think one was stabbed? That place was SO much fun most of the time..But it went down hill fast...Probably the best place to pick up woman!! Oh the days! THANKS- for keeping us all safe that night if you were there working!!!!

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  13. The owners name was Dick Andresin (sp?). He was from big rapids where also owned the Alibi. He own quite a few bars throughout michigan many under the name of the alibi, he owned a hotel and I think a bowling alley in BR as well. Steve was the manager of the Alibi in BR but came down to manage the GR bar when the former manager Mark Friburg had a motorcycle accident on the 131 s curves. I was a bouncer there from 1984 to 1987 and loved every minute of it. The people that came to that bar and worked there were the best. I have many fond memories of those few years.

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    1. That's awesome! If you'd be up for it, I'd love to publish something here with your recollections of the place. An "interview" or something along those lines.
      If you're interested, email me at poopville@yahoo.com. !

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    2. I have a series of pics from that era, I bounced there as well !

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    3. good times I dated Mark.. omg what a sweetie. we all went tubing... good times
      RS

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  14. Thanks big time to the bouncers! The people who bad mouthed them were the people causing the trouble. Me and my friends just wanted to dance and sometimes hics would show up on Thursdays to "f*** with the punkers." By the way, did Emotionally Disturbed play there or something? I thought they were on of those hardcore / thrash bands that were always playing at the Ice Pick. (Thanks for doing this Jeff.
    Everytime I hear The Smiths "How soon is now" I remember dancing to it every Thursday. Those were good times.)

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  15. I hung out at TOTR briefly during the "hair metal" years, circa '86-'89. I remember many a night standing on the stage with the other headbangers, air-guitaring to the latest metal tunes. I met many a one-night-stand there as well, since us long-hairs (at the time; I'm a total chrome dome now, having gone bald) we able to snag all of the young hotties during that time period.

    Every so often, a race war would break out there, which was always exciting to watch...

    The novelty wore off after I graduated from high school and started college. By that time, we were able to get into a number of bars without being carded. It was definitely fun while it lasted.

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  16. I DJ'd at Top and 911 for many years. Worked with Rick (Merlin), Larry T. and Stuart. So much went on behind the scenes that visitors didnt know about (mostly). Crazyness. Spent time working College night, "Progressive" night, Rap night. I recall running the lights for Information Society and yeah, Kurt was a jerk. I remember those nights when Anthony Kiedis would roll in as well, or the night that Otis Day and the Knights played the Toga party. So many memories.

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    1. Dude. Let me do an email interview with you about your stories of the place. It sounds like it would make for some entertaining reading for folks who remember Top/Club. Contact me! poopville@yahoo.com

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  17. OMGosh, I met my husband there Sept 21st 1991. Such fond memories of TOTR. Loved the music and the people. It was the first place that I had ever met anyone with the same name as me as well. 5 Wanda's in the same place. Go figure. LOL. The scary part was when my now husband almost got stabbed when he was throwing some punk out. Those stories always scared me. But there were also the funny stories about hearing all the drunk girls running around naked and those that were so excited because they got "chosen" to stay after the doors closed. WOW.

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    1. I love how stories get extra touches to make them more interesting. In all my years working there, I can only recall naked women running around inside during a bachelor party on a closed night. Now we did have some wet T-shirt contests on College night, and 2 of our staff was usually entered. As far as anyone being "chosen" to stay? I only recall bouncer girlfriends and such hanging around while we cleaned up the mess.. =P

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  18. Many of these posts are half truths or total fabrications! I worked at top under multiple owners and managers. people need to get their facts correct before they post them.

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    1. Now this post has some merit.

      http://www.mixify.com/merlinstfuad

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  19. I remember going there wearing a pink Polo shirt, then taking it off and jumping in the pit when Skrewdriver's "White Power' started playing. That, and chain smoking Djarum cigarettes.

    Yeesh! Good times...

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  20. Used to go to TOTR from 84'-88'..what memories!!! Sang in the 'Battle of the Bands' they used to have and got a T-shirt for it. Had the time of my life. Met my first long term boyfriend when I was 16. He had long blonde curly hair and wore spandex and went by the name Burnout. Yeah..we got high a lot and killed a few before going in..oh, and the slowww dances..will never forget..missing the 80's

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    1. Was this guy from Kent City?
      Christy..is that you?

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  21. Someone needs to start a Facebook group so we can share stories and photos and reconnect with people. Jef, I nominate you!

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    1. There actually is one already. It just seems rather dead...

      https://www.facebook.com/groups/49706846619/

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  22. Thanks for putting this together Jef. I introduced the first non-top 40 music to TOTR. I think the original dj was "Barry". Can't remember his name for sure. I brought in a vinyl copy of Oingo Boingo's "Good For Your Soul" and we did the first air band to "Who Do You Want To Be Today". We won first place. I will try to track down some pics.

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  23. Oh, I did have the stripes shaved on the side of my head...

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  24. I grew up 30 minutes away from TOTR. I still can not believe my parents let me go there (I probably didn't divulge too many details). I was an honor student/athlete/model in HS...and this was unlike anything I'd ever seen, even on my (limited channels/no cable in the country) tv. Here is where I met A, and it was Valentine's Day, 1992. He was the boy with the short pony tail and temper. The Southeastern European all the girls wanted and the guys didn't want to mess with in the mosh pit. I can hear Ice T's Body Count right now.
    The dancers on the podiums. The feel of the painted metal handrails around the dance floor. The trips to Denny's on the way home.
    A and I lasted three years, and it didn't end well. But I like to remember those nights in '91-'94ish. They were f@cking exciting.

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    1. *Valentine's Day, 1991

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  25. Hey Jef

    Thanks for the site and the photos, Great memories.

    I think I am the old timer of the current bloggers.

    I dropped out of Wyoming Park High in 1977 and got a job at the Alibi of Grand Rapids as bouncer and later a waiter to get by. I think I was there for 18 months. In those days.. the music sets at the Alibi were 4 songs disco, 4 songs rock and 4 slow songs, and then repeat. There was a divide between the kids that liked Disco (Donna Summer ) and the hard core rockers (Bob Seiger) . You could hear the groups yell out when the rock sets started. The place was really packed on the weekends. You went to the Alibi or the Green Apple in those days 1977 - 1978. The green apple if you could not stand Disco. The drinking age was still 18 then for beer and booze. One great thing about disco was that the girls looked great, all dresses up with poofy hair and eye makeup. My fist exposure to Iranian students that had a lot of cash to throw around. people, blacks with their protitutes in tow all dressed, and Cocaine was everywhere. The Alibi of Grand Rapids tried to emulate studio 54 in New York city. The cover charge was first 1 buck and then 2. I think there was a Alibi in Big Rapids too. I remember, the police would sit out on Alpine and pullover the cars leaving the Alibi on Saturday night after last call that had not turned on their headlights, that most suredley had too much to drink and be driving. By 1979 Disco was tapering off and the drinking age got voted up to 21. I got out of there and went to Florida to drink and dance more in the clubs down there. Will come back there some day. Sorry to see the building fall apart but things evolve.

    Thanks Again

    Mark T
    66@dscoach.com

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  26. Thanks so much for the memory!! This is great. I did TOTR 89-91 and only on Thursdays. I can't hear Rob Base "It takes two" without flashbacks to those nights. In hindsight - wasn't that an odd song to play on alternative night??

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  27. I think what I remember the most was "Gary and the Gator". doing a funky up down flip around dance on the floor to "Takin Care of Business"!.. Next would be the makeout room :-) LOL

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  28. sitting in the back parking lot killing a twelve pack before going in and smoking Djarums in between Dead or Alive tracks. Now were all grown up and ask "what were my parents thinking letting me do that in high school?"

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  29. I was the first DJ for the Alibi Grand Rapids when it opened in October 1976 and worked there until the fall of 1979.

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  30. Don't know how I stumbled on this site, but it sure brings back memories. I was a waitress and then bartender there around 1977 to about 1980. Many, many great times there. Eric I think was a DJ and there was a manager named Diane and I worked with a great guy named Steve behind the bar. Wonder where everyone is these days.

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    1. Trying to figure out who you are? And yes I was the DJ

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    2. Could this be KF?

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    3. I believe we went to school as well, Comstock Park?

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    4. Can anyone tell me how they made Blue Motorcycles? A cool waitress named Kathy made them best...and with a scoop of icecream.

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  31. THUNDERCHICKEN'S Grand opening ( summer 1974 ) was one big day for Grand Rapids . My girlfriends girlfriend's dad built it and I was able to see Kansas and many other bands play there for free. But the drinks were pricey and the other acts ( God Spell ) were getting pricey too. Then it changed to ThunderBird dinner club and then the owner took the profits and the young waitress ( left his family ) for Florida. His investors were looking for him and his money and that was the end of the beginning in 1976.

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  32. I only made it to TOTR once, but oh, how I wanted to go to Alternative Night back in the late '80s. I would have been a regular had I lived closer. Instead, I just about the only goth in Zeeland.

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  33. In the early to mid 90's I used to go to Top of The Rock, Club 911 and DV8. I seemed to be in G.R. when that place was changing names a lot. I went on Thursdays of course. Those of us who were old enough also went to 'Alternative A to Z' at the Orbit Room and there was another alternative night at a club in Kalamazoo on another night, but I don't remember the name of it. I also used to hang out a lot at a coffee shop called 'Music X-presso'. During that time most of my income was from donating plasma and shoplifting. lol

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  34. Awesome post, I worked there as a bouncer from summer 85 until spring 86. Best job ever, lots of fun!! When I started there, Shawn Christian bounced there too, he his now an actor on the soap opera Days of Our Lives.

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  35. I spoke to my wife, for the first time, at that place. I used to go there and get drunk in the parking lot and go in hang out and enjoy the music. Lots of memories........

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  36. There was an Alibi in Mt. Pleasant too

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  37. "Top Of The Rock & Club 911," Soo Many Memories! Smoking Djarhums, Mosh Pits & Seductively Dancing With Strangers, lol. For The Most Part, People Were Very Nice, (At Least On Alternative Nights.) Dancing Cages, Sneaking Around Alcohol & Even Unknowingly Dropped Acid.Those Were The Days! Thank You For The Memories. ;)

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  38. Oh wow! Flashbacks! I went there '92-'94. Nothing like black lipstick, fishnets and dancing to Primus and Nine Inch Nails. The bathrooms were avoided by a lot of weaker people cuz that's where the action was! Haaa! Wow! I recognize all those kids! I see Tina in one and I se Roach! ROACH! Ah, times were good!

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  39. Fun post! I would go there from 86 to maybe 1990. I wasn't very "alternative" and didn't drink in the parking lot, but loved to get out of my side of town and dance dance dance with kids from all over town! I remember going there with the exchange students in my school, and then taking friends there from Kalamazoo where I attended college. I totally remember how I would dance and when I hear that music mentioned above it makes me actually think of that dance floor at TOTR!

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  40. Oh the memories! I was the female bouncer there from '87-89....good times!

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  41. Good Times. Hung out there from 91-93 on Thursdays.

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  42. My gosh the memories in this place.. I was an exchange student from Australia, and spent many a weekend night at TOTR..Always had a good time, and met some really interesting people..If there is ever to be a reunion, I'd love to attend

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  43. I don't know if you'll get a notification of my reply- I am guessing not but just in case- I am having a reunion! It is July 8 10pm at The Pyramid Scheme bar downrown Grand Rapids!

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