For more than three decades, a towering cow skull has beckoned roadside travelers to visit the Longhorn Grill in Amado.

The symbol of death often belied the liveliness within the diner.

The concrete stucco skull, whose horns reach 30 feet high, may still draw passers-by, but the restaurant is now as hollow and lifeless as its facade. The Longhorn Grill has closed, and one of Southern Arizona's great roadside attractions has ridden into the sunset.

Former owner Ed Madril, who bought the property in 1993, said slow sales forced the bank to foreclose on the property, and he didn't have the cash to buy it back.

The restaurant, at 28851 S. Nogales Highway in Amado, closed at the end of June, causing its 14 employees to lose their jobs. On Tuesday the restaurant was selling contents on the spot to walk-in customers.

"After so many years, to walk in there 20 years ago and build something, it's tough," Madril said. "When something like this in life happens, you deal with it the best you can."

Madril was philosophical about the closure, saying losing the restaurant is hard but not as difficult as losing a family member.

"When all is said and done, it's just dust," he said.

According to a real estate sale listing, the 6,270-square-foot building, which rests on a 118,919-square-foot lot, is available for $299,000.

The memories the skull leaves behind, however, are priceless. Built in the early 1970s, the building appeared in the backdrop of movies including "Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore," "Boys on the Side" and "Vanishing Point," and once graced the pages of Life magazine.

Real estate agent Paul McComb, who is handling the property's sale, said he was too busy Tuesday to answer questions.

In recent years, the restaurant offered all-you-can-eat pizza, spaghetti and catfish on certain days. The joint was also known for its fries.

In 2006, the Star conducted a reader survey about the area's best fries, and the Longhorn Grill earned some ink for its famed "Chris's fries," which reader Marti Nelson then called "out of this world good."

The building wasn't always a restaurant. A bait shop, clothing store and roofing company once made a home of the skull.

It stands to reason that this isn't the end of a landmark, but just another transition.

"The skull will always be there," Madril said, "because it's a landmark, and every time you see the skull you'll think of the memories."

Did You Know?

Concrete artist Michael Kautza made the Longhorn's giant cow skull.

The former Tucsonan also made the oversized wine bottle at the Boondocks Lounge, several large pieces at Golf N' Stuff, the matador and bull in front of Casa Molina and the former Tack Room's giant boot.

And Kautza made Tucson's famed Easter Island-inspired statue saved from the former Magic Carpet Golf on East Speedway that now greets patrons at The Hut nightclub on North Fourth Avenue.

Source: Star archives

Contact reporter Phil Villarreal at 573-4130 or