SAUGUS — Julie Mitchell said she remembers the long lines that wrapped around the outside of the building as people waited to get into the Hilltop Steak House.
“It was crazy,” said Mitchell, now a Saugus selectman, of those nights when two-hour waits were the norm and prospective patrons kept watch over a herd of motionless plastic cows as traffic rumbled past on Route 1 southbound.
“I used to seat people in Sioux City,” she recalled, invoking the name of one of the restaurant’s cavernous western-themed dining rooms. “I was a hostess there when I was in high school.”
That was in Hilltop’s heyday in the 1980s. In recent years the waiting lines have grown shorter to nonexistent, and finally an era came to pass on Wednesday: The management of Hilltop Steak House announced the landmark Route 1 restaurant will close Sunday, Oct. 20.
“It’s like a part of my life is over,” said Selectman Steve Castinetti. “I’ve been eating there since I was a little kid.”
After 52 years, the cows along Route 1 that grazed in the shadow of a giant cactus will be put out to pasture. Or maybe up for auction.
“It is with great sadness that we announce the closing of the Hilltop Steakhouse in Saugus at the close of business Sunday, October 20, 2013,” states a letter signed simply, “The Management of Hilltop Steakhouse.”
In 1961 Frank Giuffrida, who died in 2004, opened the restaurant that became known for thick steaks, long lines and a western motif that included dining rooms named for train or stagecoach stops like Dodge City, Virginia City, Kansas City and, of course, Sioux City, “population” 324.
Hilltop opened it’s doors just about a decade behind Kowloon and the same year as Prince Pizzeria landed on the scene. State Rep. Donald Wong, who along with this family owns the Kowloon, said they, along with The Continental and Prince Pizzeria, represent the old guard on Route 1.