Drive-in restaurants have largely gone the way of poodle skirts and sock hops. There are some, however, that not only survived the relentless jitterbug of time, but continue to jive and thrive. These nostalgic eateries are treasured for their quirky neon signs and architecture, car hops, curbside service and classic American menus featuring drippy burgers, fried everything, flavored sodas and milkshakes. Some elements of this fast-food fun can still be had in South Carolina at a handful of drive-ins. While not all offer the full experience, each one of these iconic operations offers a delicious taste and feel of days past.
Dining options: Dine in or cruise in for old-fashioned curb service.
Most exalted eats: Chili-Cheeseburger Aplenty – Cheeseburger smothered in chili, then covered with onion rings and french fries
The Beacon began shining its light on Spartanburg’s culinary landscape on Thanksgiving Day more than half a century ago. Original recipes concocted by original proprietor John White, who operated the drive-in with his sons until his retirement in 1998, continue to form the foundation of the restaurant’s offerings, which are sweeping in scope. The kitchen management claims to go through 3 tons of onions and 3 tons of potatoes, not each year or month, but every week. Another claim to fame: Beacon Drive-in is said to sell more tea than any other establishment in the country. Considering they sell their brew through national retail markets, it might well be true.
Dining options: Dine in or enjoy curbside service, carhops and all.
Most exalted eats: Crusty fried chicken and two-fisted gyros
When Greek immigrants opened this lively drive-in back in the 1950s, it seemed natural to name it after the bustling highway on which it operated: US Route 301. For decades, crowds of locals have enjoyed the tasty American-Greek menu and socialized at the hot spot known as 301 Drive-in. Now simply called “The Drive-in,” the restaurant occupies a new building next door to its original location. Happily, the owners kept the landmark vintage sign and made it a point to include a new canopy area for ordering and car hop service. For a special treat, wash your meal down with a Clarinet, a mix of cherry cola and lemonade.
From drive-in to diner
These historic eateries are among many in the state that began as drive-ins, but remain retro landmarks in their communities. They are notable for preserving original architectural features while continuing to serve up a solid menu of grill faves (with a side of nostalgia) to customers who dine in or carry out.
Most exalted eats: Dixie Cheese Half-and-Half – A juicy cheeseburger served with a half-order of onion rings and half-order of fries
The neon vintage sign still beckons hungry folks to dine at this local Greenwood legend. Belly up to the counter, take a swivel seat, and place your order. Corn dogs, chili burgers, fried chicken and cherry colas are always in demand.
Most exalted eats: Hot-off-the-grill burgers and root beer floats in frosty mugs
The carhops are gone, but folks don’t mind hopping out of their cars to head inside and fill their bellies with old-timey goodness. The retro sign remains as a reminder of bygone days as do the wing-shaped metal roof, red booths and swivel counter chairs.
Most exalted eats: Roast Beef Aplenty – A generous roast beef sammich with fries, onion rings and coleslaw
The arrow on the neon sign points the way to the Sugar-and-Spice Drive-in, which still sports its wavy car canopy. Show up at one of their classic car shows, and you’ll swear you’ve blinked and been transported back to the 1950s.
Most exalted eats: Hot dogs with homemade chili, crinkle cut fries and hand-breaded onion rings
Once a hotbed of teenage activity, this former curb-service drive-in was a source of consternation to conservative-leaning citizens in the area. While the restaurant still operates beneath the rotating clock, the only risky behavior here these days is how many onion rings you’ll down in a single sitting.