davidd (davidd) wrote,

How Hard Does the Hard Rock Rock?

I kinda got going on my previous Hard Rock Cafe comments. I decided to keep the previous post more to the point so I cut it. The "rambling" I've posted here.

Comments on the MSNBC message boards suggest that the Hard Rock Cafe doesn't rock nearly as hard as it once did. I am tending to agree with this for a number of reasons.

Personally, I was dismayed by the significant menu change three or four years ago in which many of the healthier alternatives were removed, and prices revised considerably upward. I still like the "Twisted Mac & Cheese," but some of the vegan-friendly alternatives have been removed. I still find the food quality okay... but just okay, and not really worth the price. At some locations the nacho plate seems pretty skimpy.

In the past service was usually superb -- a server in Melbourne recognized us when we visited a second time two years later -- but recently there has been a high turnover in staff at the HRC Honolulu and the place seems short-staffed all the time, even though for the last year or so it's been half empty even during peak weekend hours. Having visited HRC outlets in Bangkok, London, Melbourne, Sydney, Barcelona, Guangzho, Beijing, Hong Kong, and three locations in Hawaii, I've noticed that the clientele is... older, and touristy. Yes, the concept is designed to appeal to tourists; obviously I was a tourist when I visited each of these locations. But... they're old! Yes, they're Mick Jagger's age. Or Pat Boone's, even. And they don't bring their kids.

And, sadly, the icons of the music have not aged well. Other than the London HRC, which still seemed fairly hip with a younger crowd, the place just doesn't seem to be considered "cool" anymore. In fact, outside the Sydney Hard Rock I overheard a group of young women passing by giggle and say, "I can't believe anyone actually goes in there." The "kids" don't dig the history. It's hard to imagine, perhaps, but Buddy Holly and Elvis are as far removed in time from today as were Eddie Cantor and George Jessel when I was a toddler. (The only reason I've heard of Cantor and Jessel is that my grandparents used to watch these Bing Crosby and Jack Benny TV specials, and George Burns seemed to always make an appearance, and I seem to hazily recall that George Burns and Jack Benny used to make references to Georgie Jessel and Eddie Cantor. As for Bing, he stayed current, he was jammin' with David Bowie... a clip from which performance I saw on the video monitor at the last HRC I visited).

Anyway, another problem with the Hard Rock is, there's too many of 'em. Three in China? Sure, there are a billion people in China, so maybe they warrant three HRCs based on population. But where's the link to rock-n-roll history? Why are there three in Hawaii? A friend and I have had this discussion a number of times: how many Hard Rock Cafes should there be, and in what cities? A lot fewer than there are, we agree, and while Cleveland might rock, Guangzho probably does not.

Plus, there's just not enough authentically cool memorabilia to go around. Signed guitars, big deal. A signed guitar that John Lennon actually played (or the suit he wore on the 1965 US tour, which is on display in Honolulu) is awesome. Some old album covers and brand new guitars autographed by a late-80s flash-in-the-pan band members are not. I mean, give me something other than 45rpm picture sleeves that I can find at the local flea market, please. Okay, in addition to the picture sleeves... I like the album covers and record sleeves, but those should be "color spots," not the "heart" of the memorabilia display. In fact, the "real" memorabilia has taken a back seat to the Hard Rock "collectibles." The pins have gone from being cool little mementos to an overproduced mass market item. In some locations, the restaurants seem to be little more than adjuncts to the stores.

There's also a "corporatization" going on. The Honolulu HRC used to be quite nice, on the site of the 1940s-era Kau Kau Corner on the outskirts of Waikiki. There was a lovely outside patio surrounded by a heavy panax hedge which isolated the dining area from the nearby traffic. Flaming tiki torches cast a warm glow, and the classic music resonating from inside added to the tropical/rockin' ambience. Last year "corporate execs," according to the serving staff, ordered the hedge removed because it hid the location from the view of passing drivers. Almost immediately business plummeted. Outdoor seating once required a wait. Now it's nearly empty most of the time. Further, the Honolulu HRC is moving to a heart-of-Waikiki location as part of a new hotel complex sometime in the near future. The newer HRCs I've visited seem to all look nearly identical. Bangkok, Barcelona, Lahaina... interchangeable. Denny's with guitars.

This cheesy little hole-in-the-wall pub in Barcelona, Spain, decorated with drum kits, beat up Stratocasters, accordians, and posters rocks harder than many of the Hard Rock Cafes I've seen:

Spain: Barcelona -- Poor Man's Hard Rock Cafe

But what do I know? The business just sold for close to a billion dollars. That's, like, a lot of bread, Fred! Not bad for a single location start-up thirty-odd years ago. If I ran a little place like the one pictured above, would I be happy to expand and make a cool billion? You bet'cha! So I'm not telling HRC and their new owners how to run their business. I'm just saying that I see two things happening:
  • The niche for HRC-type restaurants is being taken over by microbreweries.
  • While I will probably check out the HRC in various cities should the opportunity occur, I am unlikely to steer friends to the local HRC, nor to choose it myself.

It still woulda been fun to go there with 905.

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