A few months ago, I pseudo-eulogized/celebrated the demise of the downtown location of the Hard Rock Café. It was an eyesore, it was ridiculous and it arrived at least a decade too late to be considered even sort of cool. It disappeared with everything else on Block E (except, inexplicably, the Shout House), and the space is soon to become part of a joint venture between the Mayo Clinic and the Timberwolves.
But the Hard Rock didn't go away, exactly. It resurfaced several weeks ago in the Mall of America on the south end of Nickelodeon World. The food's the same, the ambiance is the same, but it's somehow totally different and while that "different" doesn't necessarily mean "better," it's definitely more at home in a place where fun seems to be more carefully constructed than organically occurring.
My friends had a baby at the beginning of the year. Since then, their life together has changed much -- mostly for the far better, of course -- and they have little time to plan things like their own birthdays. After much deliberation, the wife of this couple decided that her birthday was going to be celebrated at the HRC, because "I want to eat there and ride the fucking roller coaster in Nickland or whatever it's called." We all obliged.
We arrived and were whisked past a massive amount of Prince memorabilia, among other rock 'n' roll history, and were seated in a booth flanked by what can only be described as chainmail artwork featuring Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix.
We looked though the menu marveling at what you get for the money (not much at all in the way of fine dining) and were amused at the mix of music they were playing -- many songs paired with videos being projected on a back wall -- all selected carefully for the most coverage.
Not every song would appeal to everyone, but if you didn't like one, you were sure to like the next. Led Zeppelin, INXS, Tame Impala, UB40, Thin Lizzy, the list was all over the map for the duration. It wasn't bad, just amusing to witness.
The food we ordered, mostly burgers, save for a couple who are vegetarian and ordered fish tacos and something else I do not recall, was passable -- but just barely so. My burger was overly greasy but not inedible, though my girlfriend's pasta dish was bad enough that she didn't even bother asking for a takeaway box.
Everyone else's meal was decent, and it got me thinking: "Is this what most dining experiences are like?" When I eat out it's almost never at a chain, not because I'm a snob, but because I don't live near any, save for fast food.
The most confusing part of the whole evening was the patio. Yes, this fully indoor restaurant has a patio. For the life of me I can't figure out why.
It's located even further into Nick Universe and at least two of the rides pass over it or very near it. I can think of few things less relaxing while eating unless you were eating dinner inside that scene at Rahad Jackson's house in Boogie Nights with that sociopathic kid lighting off fireworks the entire time.
Plus, it's a goddamn indoor patio, what the hell? Technically, that's not even a patio, you're just eating food in the middle of the mall at that point. It, like much of the mall itself, really, was completely nonsensical. I've mentioned this particular detail so many times, it's not even funny or odd to me anymore. It just is. Much like my entire visit to the HRC.
So while the HRC will no doubt thrive in a prime location within the confines of one of the largest enclosures of mass commerce in the world, I will likely never go back.
I look for new experiences when I do most things, and my experience there, from the music to the food, the drinks, and nearly everything else, was just pieces of old experiences mashed together in a newish way.
I'd heard those songs before, and I'd eaten a burger just like that 50 times before.
Hell, even the bathrooms looked like ones I'd been in a million times. It was all designed to make me vaguely comfortable while I was there, but not to lure me back.
And for the most part, it worked, until I started thinking about what it would be like to eat on that patio. Then I started sweating and looking for the exits. It's all constructed Fun™ and it's right at home in the Mall of America, which is precisely why I am not.
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