I've been visiting Hard Rock Cafes since the late '80s. When I traveled with my family to places like Boston, Chicago, and Dallas, we would make a point to stop at the HRC. Later as an adult traveler, I went to the fancier London location in the old Rolls Royce showroom on Park Lane, and to check out the party at the Las Vegas casino. Each location is unique in design and vibe, and I've always felt the excitement of eating out in a new city while the loud music played.
Since then, I've developed a more sophisticated palate and I'm someone who typically chooses elegant dining rooms and local restaurants. I love rock memorabilia, and each Hard Rock Cafe exhibits a menagerie of memorabilia that celebrates a mix of rock legends, contemporary icons, and local music heroes. I will always enjoy going back to the Hard Rock Cafe.
As I walked into the mall's location on a busy Saturday afternoon, I got giddy thinking about the trophies from the rock 'n' roll world that I would see displayed throughout the restaurant. Diners can usually skip the line with priority seating; however, they don't take reservations on Saturdays and the wait was 35 minutes. That was okay, I was happy to have a look around.
As I walked past the host stand down a short hall, I immediately was met with stylish stage costumes that Prince wore throughout his career. The standout was a magnificent double-breasted purple metallic coat from the 1987 Sign o' the Times tour. Appropriately hung across from this, Jesse (now Jerome) Johnson -- lead guitarist of pop-funk group the Time -- had a photo and polka-dot guitar. The Replacements suitably represented the hometown alternative scene with a signed Strat. One of the signatures dubiously read, "Place Mats," documenting a bit of the 'Mats underdog history.
It didn't take long to get lost in the music in the main dining room. There's a big video screen at the center of the stage area, and near the booth seating are metal chain art likenesses of Dylan, Elvis, Chuck Berry, George Harrison, and Kurt Cobain inspired by the rock dens of the '70s.
From my visits as a teen, I knew that customers are encouraged to explore and I took the opportunity to walk around the venue. This was reinforced when I was taking a photo of some Bob Dylan tickets from a show he played in Glasgow -- another city that can boast an HRC -- when an employee asked if I liked Dylan. He directed me to a booth that was dedicated to the troubadour with a framed Hohner Harmonica and set list written by him. The plaque proclaims: "Bob would play a maximum of three shows on any given harmonica before they started to lose their tone." The Minnesota icon is well represented between this and a bronze bust in front of the shelf area of the main level bar.
On a bar up on the second level with balcony seating, you can see Britney Spears's waitress costume, a sparkly romper worn by Rihanna, and a topcoat Madonna wore on her Like a Virgin tour -- my first concert experience in 1985. I couldn't get as close as I wanted to David Bowie's acoustic guitar, because I feared disturbing a table of six. But I waited patiently for Kurt's booth to be vacated, then I made a move to see what a seventh-grade Cobain looked like before rock stardom. Alongside his school photo, there was a sheet of handwritten lyrics from a work in progress and a signed guitar complete with a heart.
After a quick twirl through the merch shop, where a limited-edition Imagine Dragons T-shirt was for sale benefiting the Tyler Robinson Foundation -- an organization established by the band to help families handle the financial costs of pediatric cancer -- I was summoned by text that my table was finally ready.[page]
My sister and I had a catbird seat to watch music videos on the main level as we socialized over nachos under Tony Iommi's custom guitar. MTV shaped much of my viewing pleasure in the '80s, and it still delights me. The afternoon's mix spanned genres but was steeped in nostalgia blended with modern hits -- Florence and the Machine, the Go-Go's ("Our Lips Are Sealed" is one of my favorites), Bowie and Mick's "Dancing in the Streets", ABBA, Donna Summer, Kool and the Gang, Kylie, Prince, and a triple shot of Michael Jackson.
There was something awesome about seeing a middle-aged mom singing along with Joan Jett's "I Love Rock 'n' Roll" as she left with two little ones in tow. There was also a group of friends who met up at the bar just long enough to do margarita shots. Rock 'n' roll, indeed.
The Hard Rock Café is good for groups. There are lots of six tops and it's a central meeting place after a crazy day of shopping at the MOA (as demonstrated by the group who met up simply to do shots). Food portions are generous and priced well, especially compared to surrounding restaurants. My sister and I split an appropriately named "Nachopalooza," which is a plate of nachos that is as massive as it sounds.
Already full, I tried to tackle the Fiesta Burger with fresh guacamole, and she had the Grilled Chicken Chop Salad topped with the signature HRC flag. We both agreed we would get our choices again. Hard Rock has 1919 Root Beer on tap, and I also had a Mixed Berry 'Rita made with fresh blackberries, blueberries, and raspberries and a generously salted rim. On my next visit, I want to be sure to try the adorable Air Mexico Flight of Margaritas with a side of tortilla chips.
The HRC's enduring motto is "Love All -- Serve All," and that policy is still clearly practiced. Our service was excellent and the people who took care of us during our visit were attentive and friendly, and legitimately looked like they were having fun at work. When my parents come to town, we will likely have a dinner at the HRC and carry on our casual family tradition.
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