The iconic Hilltop Steakhouse served its last meal back in October, but this Saturday, the restaurant will open its doors one last time — not to serve up steak dinners, but to hold an old-fashioned on-site auction, where everything from kitchen equipment to memorabilia will go up for sale.

In his work as gallery director at John McInnis Auctioneers in Amesbury, Mass., Dan Meader has presided over his share of estate sales and liquidations. And he’s come to understand a thing or two about beginnings and endings.

“Everything has a life cycle, and this restaurant is one of them,” he said.

The Hilltop Steakhouse, the mammoth western-style steakhouse in Saugus on Route 1: Even if you’ve never stepped inside for a meal, you might know it from the herd of life-sized cows and calves on the lawn and the enormous 68-foot, light-up cactus sign that has towered over Route 1 since the 1960s.

During the restaurant’s heyday in the ‘70s and ‘80s, the Hilltop was one of the largest privately owned restaurants in the country - serving more than 3 million customers each year. Meader said the restaurant sold a record number of 8,700 steak dinners in one day.

But those days are long gone. The Hilltop served its last steak in October, and Saturday, December 14, marks the venerable restaurant's final chapter – when they will hold what Meader calls a “good old-fashioned, on-site public auction.”  

There were tens of thousands of objects in the restaurant, but the auctioneers have boiled it down to 1,000 lots, Meader said. The items include restaurant and kitchen equipment, benches, chairs, tables, signage, carts, cigar-store Indians, sconces, silverware, pins, buttons, and, of course, cows.

Most of the famed cows from the front lawn are already spoken for — and a few have been stolen — but if it’s cows you seek, cows you will find.

“We have all of the cow heads that hung in here, some that had been put away for years," Meader said. Some that were damaged from the big major cows outside and they saved the heads from them. So we have quite a number of the cow heads, which in my opinion, they’re much more practical.” 

And then there is the bovine jackpot, something Meader uncovered in the basement that nobody knew even existed.

“Guess what? We found the original molds for the cows," he said. "We have the full-size cow and the calf cow in the molds. So you can have all the cows you would ever desire — both sizes."

Saturday’s auction will be split into two parts, with all of the tables, chairs and kitchen equipment being sold in the morning and the scores of statues, signs, paintings, pictures, and other memorabilia sold in the afternoon.

“We don’t really know what to expect," Meader said. "We’re gonna get two different kinds of crowds, we know, because we’ll have the restaurant type people that need things to furnish their own restaurants, but we’re going to have the nostalgic people, the people that have come here for generations that just can’t believe the place is gone now, and they might want to be able to relive that in their own way and take a piece of this home with them.”

Just about everything — including the kitchen sinks — are part of the sale. The only item that isn’t is that famed cactus. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not for sale.

“Right now it’s not in the auction," Meader said. "We’ve had a lot of calls on it, a lot of people requesting. If somebody offered a lot of money for it — who knows what could happen, but right now it’s not part of the sale.”

While it will take a pretty penny to net some of the items, Meader said you don’t need deep pockets to take a piece of the Hilltop home with you this weekend.

“We have a lot of signage," he said. "And then we have a lot of the pins, and we have some of the menus and that kind of stuff — those things will not go for a lot of money and we have quite a few of that kind of thing to go around."

Walking around this quiet, sprawling, empty space, that for decades teemed daily with hundreds of employees and customers, it’s not hard to get wistful — even a little sad. But Meader has a different take. He knows that, for the Hilltop, this isn’t really an ending; it’s simply a new beginning.

"It’s an icon, it stood here for 50 years, and now the time has come," Meader said. "Fashions change, the times change and now it’s going to start a new history in people’s homes."

And nothing says history quite like a giant fiberglass cow head on your wall.