Hard Rock Cafe
Location, location, location. That is one of the many selling points of Seattle’s Hard Rock Cafe, which opened its doors to the public last Wednesday and is looking to make its mark on the local music scene.
The two-story, 14,000-square-foot restaurant’s prime real estate at the corner of First Avenue and Pike Street will likely attract heavy foot traffic from tourists and locals alike. Inside, Hard Rock’s hip and modern atmosphere will give diners plenty of eye candy to enjoy in the form of local music memorabilia from Hard Rock’s collection — including guitars owned by Kurt Cobain and Eddie Vedder, hand-written notes from Courtney Love and Quincy Jones, and more.
If it’s grunge you’re looking for then the first floor of Hard Rock Seattle is where you’ll want to eat. Local icons ranging from Mother Love Bone’s Andy Wood to the Presidents of the United States of America have guitars on the walls and interesting items like the topper of Courtney Love and Kurt Cobain’s wedding cake make for a uniquely Seattle dining experience. The decision to focus the Hard Rock on more recent music history as opposed to The Sonics or Hendrix (Hendrix is represented upstairs, the Sonics are absent) was wise as it adds to the restaurant’s cool, modern vibe.
Keeping with the modern theme, the Emerald City version of the worldwide restaurant chain is as much a shrine to technology as it is a shrine to rock ’n’ roll. Upon entering the restaurant, patrons will undoubtedly notice the Rock Wall Solo, an interactive touch-screen wall where visitors can search and view memorabilia from Hard Rock’s collection. The booths on the first floor also have touch-screen displays where patrons can vote for what to play on the jukebox and virtually browse items from the Hard Rock’s collection.
Want to read John Lennon’s hand-written lyrics to “Imagine” while waiting for your drinks? You can do that. How about checking out some Hammer pants worn by MC Hammer during the video shoot for “Dancing Machine”? That’s in the system too. More than 1,500 items from Hard Rock’s collection have been digitally scanned into the virtual units. According to Joe Tenczar, Hard Rock’s CIO, Hard Rock has the world’s largest collection of rock memorabilia, with more than 72,000 pieces. Tenczar said more items could be added to Seattle’s virtual catalog once they are scanned into the system.
“The goal is to make it a fun, interactive experience for music fans,” he said. “We want to have more than food and drinks, we want people to have fun and walk away having had an experience to go along with their meal.”
Adding to the interactivity is a phone tour, which allows diners to call a number (206-204-4666) and enter a code next to an item to learn more about the piece. I recommend #55, which describes hand-written notes taped to an Eddie Vedder acoustic guitar.
While Hard Rock Seattle isn’t claiming to be a historical chronicler of the local music scene, there are several key players from the past couple of decades missing from the restaurant’s representation. Elliott Smith, Mudhoney, Sleater-Kinney, Modest Mouse and Death Cab for Cutie are a few of the notable omissions.
However, there also are several interesting additions from bands that have made some noise in the past few years. An outfit worn by Wil Francis of Aiden, a local gothic punk band popular with the Warped Tour crowd, hangs on a wall next to the bar on the main floor. Math rockers Minus the Bear have framed memorabilia on the walls. And one of the more humorous and random pieces on display is a guitar owned by Christian Wargo of the Crystal Skulls. If you’re thinking “Who are the Crystal Skulls?” that wouldn't shock the band, judging by Wargo's quip on the phone-guided tour (it’s #40 if you want to hear the story yourself).
“The note he sent us was so hilarious we had to put it on the plaque (next to the guitar),” said Giovanni Taliaferro, Hard Rock’s memorabilia designer. “I think that’s what makes is such a great piece and so unique to Seattle.”
He added that just about every rock artifact on display has some connection to Seattle, something he said helps distinguish Hard Rock Seattle from some of its counterparts. Hammering home the local look of Hard Rock Seattle is its marquee, a 15-foot-tall neon sign modeled after Kurt Cobain’s famous Fender Jag-Stang guitar.
The booths upstairs don’t feature interactive displays or heavy doses of local rock, but it's still worth a trip to the top floor. There’s a bar, along with seating for around 400 people and a stage for live performances. Dubbed the Cavern Club (Hard Rock bought the rights to the name of the historic Liverpool venue), the stage is the city’s newest music venue, and Hard Rock Seattle expects to host live music about four nights a week. Plans include monthly residencies for local artists on Tuesdays, all-ages shows on Sundays and local and national talent in the room on weekends. The venue is scheduled to begin hosting live music in March.
The memorabilia's connection to Seattle starts to get a little iffy upstairs. For example, there's a framed contract signed by Nat King Cole for the song “Stardust.” What’s Nat King Cole’s connection to Seattle? “Stardust” was included on the Sleepless in Seattle soundtrack.
But with all its cool items — like drum kits used by former Nirvana drummer Chad Channing and Alice in Chains skins man Sean Kinney — Hard Rock Seattle's crown jewel is its rooftop deck. The roof features its own bar, plus seating for more than 100 with couches situated around fire pits. And it has perhaps the best dining view in town outside of the Space Needle. The rooftop overlooks Pike Place Market and the Puget Sound and should become a trendy place for cocktails on warm summer nights.
“The deck really sells itself,” said Taliaferro. “I expect it to be packed every night once word gets around about the spectacular view.”
Hard Rock Seattle seems to be the perfect storm of a dining experience for locals and tourists alike. It’s a place you can go to enjoy a burger, enjoy a band and enjoy the view. Just try not to get mayo on the touch screens.
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