Growing up in Massachusetts, there are some traditions that live on from the past generation: eating clams at Kelly's Roast Beef, walking through Faneuil Hall giving the wrong directions to lost tourists, sitting in the blazing sun to watch the Red Sox play or walking to the grocery store in a blizzard. There's also the accent that everyone assumes is either a doctored New York Accent or sounds like we just got off a boat with the Kennedys.
But the longest standing tradition, going back to before we were even thought of, was the Hilltop Steakhouse, a staple in Mass for more than 40 years and a landmark; everyone has been there at least once, whether it was during the height of its popularity or recently during its decline. The recent announcement that it's finally shutting its doors took everyone by surprise and for one last meal before it's over, everyone this weekend flocked to the Hilltop and stood in line for hours.
The Hilltop was the go-to place for us as a family; literally every Sunday that wasn't spent at my aunt's or with my aunts, we went to the Hilltop for Sunday dinner because it was great food in this beautiful old western saloon. The decorations were of cowboys, ancient Cherokee Indians and these vintage 1900s busts of saloon girls. I loved staring at the walls because the pictures would tell a story of a struggles and hardships. You could almost feel the sadness.
Being a foodie and a little kid, I remember every time we'd go there, I'd get the same thing, a burger salad and fries. I'd eat half of it then zoom into the dessert menu, where I'd literally stick my face into a piece of chocolate cake. I remember loving every second of it because I felt like such a grownup sitting there. It was the few times I got to make my own big-kid decisions. My Aunt M used to say she never met a kid before who, when asked by a waitress, puffed up her chest, looked the waitress in the eye and said, "I'll have clam chowder and a salad with bleu cheese dressing." Even at six I was a motor mouth.
Every time we'd go there, my father would tell the same story of how in the blizzard of 1978, as soon as the roads cleared and they were able to drive, everyone they knew ran to the Hilltop because it was the only restaurant open and how despite the hours long wait, they'd sit at the bar and catch up, comparing horror stories of who was stuck on the highway longer or having been stranded somewhere and somewhere in between he'd thrown in the story of how he hiked three towns over and across a major road with snow up to his chest to visit my mother and grandmother, who, after sweet-talking him into shoveling her driveway, gave him chowder.
The last big party my family had together, before everyone started dying off, was at the Hilltop for a cousin's 50th birthday. I remember walking into the big banquet room wondering how we were going to fill it with people and my cousin swinging me around by my arms until I thought I was going to pass out from a combination of dizziness and nauseousness but I didn't care, I loved every second of it and although certain parts of the party are kind of fuzzy since so much time has passed. I remember my mother shoving me out the door to bring the birthday guest of honor and staring in horror at realization they'd plastered her name over the door but somehow throw myself in front of it so she couldn't see, got her upstairs in front of the room and when I opened the door for everyone to yell surprise, was instead blinded by cameras flashing.
The last time we went, right before it took a tremendous nosedive, my mother had ordered her typical meal, a "Pearl Harbor," and she found a piece of wood in it. Now, my mother is not shy about anything and in this case, aimed to be heard especially when the manager started to argue with her, my mother in full voice goes, "Excuse me, I asked for a Pearl Harbor minus the float!"
Everyone has a place they remember vividly going to as a kid, whether it was with your friends or your parents, someplace where it seems like your past began, doesn't matter where, just someplace that makes you feel good and holds memories. For me this was it, I went there at a month old, probably went at least three times a month until the decline. For 28 years it like it was "my restaurant."
A friend of mine, upon hearing I was going to the Hilltop for the last time, commented that it wasn't really closing, it was just an attempt to drum up business but I think its time has come, there's no reason to revive the impossible.
The Hilltop was one of those places, no matter how bad the food got, you still went for the sake of going because it was a part of everything you knew about living here, and you went for the last time to say I was there. It's like a moment in history you want to be a part of. It's the memories that keep you going back.
What's your favorite memory of the Hilltop? Are you sad about it closing?