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    On the corner of Frankfort Avenue and Pope Street, Hilltop Tavern is the Skelton brothers’ love song to the Clifton neighborhood. “Within walking distance of Hilltop Tavern, that’s where I’ve spent my entire life,” says older brother Mike Skelton, 36. Younger brother John, 34, says the two spent their childhood as “total Bardstown Road skate rats.” “We had the house that everyone would hang out at after school,” he says. “There’s people I went to grade school with that I still see on a regular basis.”

    Mike has been working in restaurants and bars since he was 16, John since he was 20. They have experience at places like Wick’s, Varanese and Seviche. “We knew we wanted to work together,” John says. “He reins me in a little bit, and I bring him out a little bit.” The Skeltons wanted to create that house-that-everyone-hangs-out-at feeling at their own bar. “We’ve actually had three or four baby showers, three weddings, quite a few wakes.” Mike says. “There are people that met here, got married, had a baby, and now they’re bringing their baby out on a Friday night to hang out at Hilltop.”

    The inside of the bar, which opened New Year’s Eve 2011, is helter-skelter but comfortable, reflecting the brothers’ desire to have, John says, “the classiest dive bar in town.” Ping-pong and foosball tables and a stack of board and card games shelved beside the bathroom add to the homey vibe. A shelf over the bar is decorated with antique beer taps.

    Hilltop’s building, built in 1890, has been, among other things, a medically themed nightclub called the Recovery Room (bartenders wore scrubs) and Gator’s, which Mike says housed a live alligator. On the wall facing the bar are three black-and-white photographs from 1938 capturing people posed in front of the building, watching a trolley roll down Frankfort Avenue. The space behind the bar is decked out with tiny toys and figurines that Mike says are there to “keep the ghosts happy.” “A lot of people come in here that know us from when we were teenagers and say, ‘This looks like your old bedroom,’” Mike says. “One of the things I’m most proud about is that women come here, alone, and do homework.  They feel comfortable enough to just come in here and hang out.”

    Hilltop's food ranges from quality bar food (jumbo whole wings from Indiana that are smoked for hours) to better versions of fair food (porter-battered, deep-fried Oreos drizzled with a Dr Pepper reduction). Food that pairs equally well with a cold Coke or a PBR.

    Mike says, “For most bars, you’re supposed to have 80 percent new people and 20 percent regulars to survive. You’re supposed to constantly have new people coming in. For us, it’s the complete opposite. It’s 80 percent regulars. On Wednesday night when you come in here and there’s 50 people sitting at the bar, I can probably name all of them. At least by their first name.”

    Images courtesy of Chris Witzke

    This article appears in the August issue of Louisville Magazine. To subscribe to Louisville Magazine, click here

    Elizabeth Myers's picture

    About Elizabeth Myers

    Big fan of bacon and bourbon, deep fried anything, sweet tea and sweet nothings.

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