The Iron Horse Grill is not an ordinary restaurant. It is a members-only club. But don’t let that daunt you. Membership requirements are no more strict than those of Sam’s Club. Annual dues are $20.

A member can host an unlimited number of guests. Benefits include potent cocktails and excellent bar food.

By “bar food,” I mean chow that is bold, not dainty. The Iron Horse’s very name – once slang for locomotives, now for Harley-Davidsons – tells you not to expect cucumber canapés and pink meringue roses. Out in Beech Island country, it really has been a biker bar. But even those of us who travel in sedate sedans know it as the place to go when robust appetite demands satisfaction and thirst wants more than lemonade.

This club is indeed a great place to drink adult beverages. Iron Horse beer is famously cold. Bartenders Michael Graham and Paul Covey are pros who know how to mix splendid cosmos and lemon drop martinis. They or their apprentice, Savannah, bring a silver shaker to the table and pour the cocktail into its glass as you watch.

The meal that best conveys the lusty culinary spirit of the Iron Horse is listed on the menu as a “mess.” It is a hash-like mountain of roast beef (or chicken tenders) piled with grilled onions, mushrooms and tri-colored peppers. Melted provolone blankets it all.

Hamburgers are the main attraction. Each starts as a rugged, half-pound grind of chuck, brisket and short rib. Cooked medium-rare, the combo oozes red-meat juice. All kinds of cheeses, vegetables and sauces are available to dress it up. One burger called the Fat Boy (named for the Harley model Arnold Schwarzenegger rode in “Terminator 2”) comes under an avalanche of bacon, caramelized onions, cheddar, jalapeños and chipotle ranch dressing.

To go with your hamburger or to precede it, have potato wedges or Yukon Gold chips. Load them with cheese, peppers, bacon, sour cream, whatever you desire. Even a small loaded plate is enough side dish for two eaters. A large one is a formidable meal.

Beyond burgers and drink-friendly munchables, the menu offers hefty sandwiches – Reubens, BLTs, Philly steaks – as well as full dinners of ribeye steak, fried shrimp, blackened salmon and, on occasion, shrimp and grits or prime rib. These meals are sure-enough uptown – not fancy-pants pretty, but skillfully cooked and handsomely plated.

It would be wrong to talk about the Iron Horse and not mention its surreal décor. One seating area looks like a 1980s spec-house living room, complete with potted plants and sectional sofa. You can barely see the ceiling above the dinner tables because hanging from it is an upside-down forest of greenery, ornamental fabric, twinkle lights and heaven-knows-what else. It’s like someone went crazy decorating Christmas trees and turned their energy skyward.

Speaking of Christmas trees, don’t be shocked to find a shiny silver 7-footer on display even if the holiday season is in the long-gone past or far-off future. At the Iron Horse, it’s always holiday season.

Iron Horse Grill: 2510 Storm Branch Road, Beech Island, S.C. 803-867-2388


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