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Hilltop Restaurant, 767 Saint Andrews Road: 23 December 2005   27 comments

Posted at 12:46 am in historic,landmark,restaurants

This is yet another of the many restaurants in Columbia that I always intend to go to "someday" but in the event don't make it before they close. The Hilltop Restaurant building has been a landmark for as long as I can remember, though I think it has gone through several different names and incarnations over the years. It seems to me that there was one in particular that used to do a lot of advertising on WIS radio in the late 60s and early 70s, but I can't bring the name to mind right now (and may be mistaken since I had no clear idea of the geography of the Saint Andrews area in those days).

From the way the parking lot and signage is configured, it appears that Hilltop had some association with the adjacent Econo Lodge (which used to be something different also).

UPDATE 10 March 2011: Updated closing date and street address based on commenter Andrew's research.

Thanks to commenter "O'Reilly" who reminded me of Hilltop and pointed out a lot of other restaurants on St. Andrews on which I'll do some future closings.

UPDATE 2 January 2012: As noted in the comments, this place has been torn down:

Written by ted on January 19th, 2009

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27 Responses to 'Hilltop Restaurant, 767 Saint Andrews Road: 23 December 2005'

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  1. Originally this was either a Western Sizzlin or a Western Steer and I can't count all the number of times the motel next to it has changed chain affiliations.

    Tom

    19 Jan 09 at 7:33 pm

  2. Yep, I think it was Western Steer.

    And don't forget the once-fancy, Piggly Wiggly right across the street. That was probably the first high end grocery story in Columbia when it opened back in the early 70s. I remember that being a pretty big deal, even for those of us that lived elsewhere in Columbia. We made the trek out there a couple times from the Forest Acres area. Seemed like a hike at the time.

    I still can't get that cheesy jingle out of my head (part of their television ad): "Piggly Wiggly of St. Annnnnn...drews..... It's the talk of the towwwwwnnnnn." I can see the tuxedo-clad man and lady in evening wear walking down the aisles and past the fancy lobster tank while singing.

    E.J.

    19 Jan 09 at 8:00 pm

  3. I think that hotel started off as a Thunderbird Inn. Every once in a whiile, you can still see one with the original signage. I think there is one on I-95 between I-20 and the Myrtle Beach exit.

    Jonathan

    20 Jan 09 at 10:25 am

  4. There is a Thunderbird Inn at the US-52 exit of I-95 in Florence. I've always loved their huge neon sign though I didn't know it was a chain.

    ted

    20 Jan 09 at 2:30 pm

  5. Around 2000 or 2001, one of the managers was killed at this restaurant and I believe that it went out of business shortly afterwards. I'm not sure if it reopened after the murder or not.

    Matt

    21 Jan 09 at 2:45 am

  6. I grew up in St Andrews and went to Seven Oaks Elem. up the street in the 80's. The Hilltop was a western steer back then. I remember the Pig too - it was the "fancy" supermarket, all of its features are practically the norm for supermarkets now. Capitol Newstand was also in that center. You could probably do a whole blog on that stretch of St Andrews, particularly the shopping center where Leo's/WG's is. The anchor of that place has changed more times than I can count.

    Alex

    21 Jan 09 at 8:27 am

  7. The motel beside was originally a part of a short-lived chain founded by some former Holiday Inn execs. I don't remember the exact name, but I think the word "park" was in it. Over the years it has been a Holiday Inn express, a Ramada, an Econo Lodge, a Super 8 and perhaps one or two other things.

    Tom

    21 Jan 09 at 2:49 pm

  8. No, I remember it being a Thunderbird Inn at least in the mid 70's. It did not become a Park Inn until later, maybe before or after it being a Holiday Inn Express.

    Jonathan

    21 Jan 09 at 5:54 pm

  9. This one closed a while back due to a tragic incident with the owner (I believe). It was in the news several years ago. Too bad, it was a nice buffet.

    JC

    30 Jan 09 at 7:35 pm

  10. It was actually a manager that was killed. Rudy Fleischhacker actually owned the business, but leased the building. Once the lease was up (around the time of the murder)he retired. Rudy's daughter was my roommate in college.

    Beth

    1 Feb 09 at 7:33 pm

  11. My husband actually saw Tiny Tim sing at the Thunderbird Motel's lounge in the 70s.

    Cary

    2 Feb 09 at 6:38 pm

  12. The story I always heard was that the manager was murdered, but that's just the story that I always heard. Too bad. Seems like anything built on that land could take advantage of having about as scenic a view as one can get... on St. Andrews Road, that is.

    Jeff

    4 Feb 09 at 4:48 pm

  13. I remember when it was a Western Steer. Man, that name "Western Steer" sure does bring back a lot of memories of my childhood.

    Bill C.

    10 Feb 09 at 1:11 am

  14. No.. the manager was killed there at the Hilltop Restaraunt..he was getting ready to leave from there or was there after the store had closed for the day when some robbers broke in and found him..they robbed him and took the money from the store, then took him( the manager) to where he lived, took his things there, then took him back to the Hilltop, took him in the back room, shot and killed him, then they left. He was found the next day in that room by some employees. After that, the place closed and hasnt been opened since. I say it's haunted, and wouldnt go in there for anything now. I'm surprized it's still there.

    Del

    12 Apr 09 at 5:35 pm

  15. Oh yeah, the the Motel/Hotel was The Thunderbird Inn..I dont remember what year it opened though, then closed for quite some time before it was bought and they changed the name several hundred times to what it is now.

    Del

    12 Apr 09 at 5:37 pm

  16. For a Forest Acres boy, I always thought this little hilltop area was special for some reason. Something "vibrant" about it, and the Hilltop Restaurant building always stood out over the years in the various incarnations like a chalet on top of the hill with the interstate valley below. The incarnation I'm most effected by was in the early '90s when Western Steer Family Steakhouse owner Rudy Fleischhacker hosted the crew from WSCQ Sunny 100 (Gene McKay, Bill Benton, and Dave Wright) and they broadcast LIVE Big Band music on Saturday mornings!?!, of all times. When I say mornings, I'm talking about live big bands in the Hilltop Restaurant with people eating 7:00 a.m. Saturday morning breakfast. All the while the local broadcasting legends were casually going about eating breakfast and keeping that silly homespun banter going between "Satin Doll" and "Take the A-Train" and mouthfuls of grits and eggs. For fans of Big Band and broadcasting, it doesn't get any better than that. I used to pinch myself to see if this was really happening in Columbia. Never made it for the breakfast, and I certainly wish I had with my ever missing camera, but at 7:00 a.m. on Saturday mornings I'm just getting ready for bed.

    What a tragic way for all those good times to come to an end, I hope the family of the manager has found some peace by now. As far as the Hilltop is concerned, it's almost like the building died tragically as well. Too bad because I'm guessing the actual building has years of life left just based on looking at it in the photographs.

    Michael Taylor

    8 Nov 09 at 3:14 am

  17. I guess I was living out of town during that era, although of course, anything happening at breakfast-time I'm going to be fuzzy on.

    I do remember the Bill Walton Big Band Show on WSCQ, broadcast live out of one of the hotels on Assembly Street. (The broadcast was live, the songs were recorded). I walked down to the show from The Towers several times while I was at USC.

    ted

    8 Nov 09 at 2:36 pm

  18. I remember that the hotel attached to the restaurant was a Thunderbird Inn when my family and I moved to St Andrews (Whitehall neighborhood) in the summer of 1980. The Thunderbird was a little skeezy even then - a tourist/traveler was killed there in a hold-up in the early 80s. The restaurant was a Western Steer until at least the mid 80s. The hotel became Park Inn about 1988/89. I had my wedding reception in the banquet rooms there in April 1990. I don't remember what the restaurant was then, though. Could have been the Hilltop.

    Barbara

    30 Nov 09 at 1:37 am

  19. I found this forum that indicates that the Hiltop closed in 2005. I remember going there a few times with family and thought it was a step above what Ryan's has become last few times I've been (thought I confess it's been several years since I graced a Ryan's with my presence).

    A little further digging yielded this Red Orbit transcript of The State article

    Those two things tell me that this restaurant closed late December 2005.

    Andrew

    9 Mar 11 at 11:53 pm

  20. Ok so my previous link to the Red orbit transcript doesn't work but this one should

    Andrew

    9 Mar 11 at 11:54 pm

  21. Upon further review, I have determined the following:

    The Red Orbit article I linked earlier, which quotes The State directly was dated December 21, 2005

    December 21 was a Wednesday that year

    They said they would close that Friday, which turned out to be December 23.

    So therefore, I hereby conclude that the Hiltop Restaurant at 676 St. Andrews Road closed on December 23, 2005.

    Andrew

    10 Mar 11 at 2:01 pm

  22. There was a band that played at the Thunderbird Inn's lounge who did an anazing cover of "Sympathy for the devil" (Rolling Stones" whenever I found out they were playing I made sure to catch tgeir act. This was back in the mid 70's.
    does anyone remember the name of the group. Also saw Billy Joe Royal there.

    Paul deichelbor

    10 Mar 11 at 3:45 pm

  23. @Andrew -- Well, you certainly seem to have done your homework. Dec 23 2005 it is!

    ted

    10 Mar 11 at 10:31 pm

  24. folks, this building has been demolished

    Andrew

    21 Dec 11 at 2:51 pm

  25. Yep! I just noticed it today.

    Alicia

    9 Jan 12 at 12:20 am

  26. This restaurant opened in the summer of 1980 (I think) as a Western Steer steakhouse. I was one of the original employees and was working there in the kitchen on opening night. I have a lot of great memories of my time at 'the Steer' and worked with some great people - many of whom I'm still friends with to this day.

    Jason

    19 Jan 12 at 6:54 pm

  27. I grew up eating there a lot as a kid, grew up in Woodland Hills. Western Steer was similar to Ryan's, but my family was split over which was better. I preferred Western Steer as I got older - they had a better quality of sides - and eventually a whole 'bakery bar'.

    Matt

    30 Jan 13 at 3:00 pm

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