A look back at 50 years of the Hard Rock Cafe

Editor’s Note – Monthly Ticket is a CNN Travel series that sheds light on some of the most fascinating topics in the world of travel. This August, we’re stepping back in time to revisit some of the greatest retro travel experiences.

(CNN) — Before being a global chain and an internationally recognized brand, the Hard Rock Cafe was a unique restaurant in London.

Created by two American businessmen, Peter Morton and Isaac Tigrett, it opened in 1971. Morton was a native of the industry – his father founded the popular American chain Morton’s Steakhouse.

London lacked neither restaurants nor museums. But the genius of Hard Rock was to combine the two.

In the 1960s, “Swinging London” was the coolest city in the world, so anything that happened there – especially if it had to do with the music scene – quickly made headlines around the world.

If a British restaurant designed by Americans seemed like an odd concept, Morton and Tigrett relied on their past rather than running from it.

Hard Rock symbolized post-World War II America. The menu was full of burgers, fries and milkshakes, the color scheme bright red and white.

It was a hint of a hint, the epitome of a kind of upbeat, bright America that existed more in pop culture shows like “Happy Days” than in real life.

But it worked.

Half a century later, the Hard Rock Cafe brand has become more than just restaurants and hotels.

Depending on who you ask, it’s either a delicious music-lover’s nirvana or a cheesy restaurant that exists to sell produce. Either way, the brand has safely established its legacy.

Aerosmith gave Les Paul a guitar birthday cake at New York’s Hard Rock.

Ed Bailey/AP

Put the “rock” in the Hard Rock

Every Hard Rock is filled with musical memorabilia, most of which were donated by the stars themselves.

Legend has it Eric Clapton, a regular at the London outpost, donated one of his Fender guitars and asked the staff to hang it on the wall near where he liked to sit . Not to be outdone, Pete Townshend of The Who also donated one of his guitars.

Merchandise has become a brand centerpiece, and not just on the walls. After all, a person can only eat one cheeseburger at a time, but they can buy a whole lot of souvenirs at once.

As Hard Rock says, the London restaurant has agreed to sponsor a local football team and put its logo on the team’s shirts. After that, the idea of ​​regular shirts was born and the first ones went on sale in 1974.

It took nearly a full decade for the restaurant to expand internationally. A Los Angeles outpost, the first in the United States, opened in 1982. Sites in Tokyo, Paris, Athens, Hong Kong, New York and many more followed.

Many Hard Rock Cafés also had stages, where local and international musicians could perform.

The best acts were often rolled out for openings at new branches.

Paul and Linda McCartney’s band Wings were invited to play the London West End’s opening night, while jazz legend BB King opened Hard Rock Beijing in 1994.

Chinese soldiers march past Hard Rock Beijing in the 1990s.

Chinese soldiers march past Hard Rock Beijing in the 1990s.

Greg Baker/AP

However, it wasn’t just famous rock stars who made appearances in restaurants and casinos.

For Jesse Dracman, who worked at the Hard Rock Cafe Surfers Paradise in Australia’s Gold Coast region for two decades, having the chance to engage in conversation with diners – from celebrities to everyday people – was one of the most enjoyable work. .

“I tried to treat every customer the same,” he says. “Once there was this older lady eating alone there, so I started talking to her. It turns out she had seen the Beatles in England when she was 17.”

Among the celebrity clients he did his best to treat like regular people were Vince Neil, Jimmy Barnes and Gene Simmons.

Now, Hard Rock’s famous collaborators aren’t just rockers.

In 2021, soccer icon Lionel Messi signed on as the brand’s global ambassador. Menus have added a “Messi Burger” in his honor.
Funk Band the Bar-Kays performing at Hard Rock Memphis in 2014.

Funk Band the Bar-Kays performing at Hard Rock Memphis in 2014.

Gareth Patterson/Invision for Hard Rock International/AP

The Rise of the Superfans

One day, Lou Nuccio traveled to New York from his hometown of Bayonne, New Jersey to have lunch with his father.

“I ate at this crazy place with my dad. They had a Cadillac coming out of a wall and it was pretty cool,” he says.

That crazy place, of course, was the Hard Rock Cafe, which was on 57th Street in a busy part of downtown Manhattan.

From then on, Nuccio became addicted. He noticed Hard Rocks in almost every place he went while working for a logistics company. At each, he picked up some of the commemorative pins sold by the brand. He now says he has about 6,500.

However, the sense of fun and community that Nuccio found at the Hard Rock didn’t really extend beyond the restaurants themselves until the advent of social media.

Nuccio created a Facebook page, HRC Worldwide Community. There he shared personal photos and reviews of different outposts he visited, as well as information about upcoming events. He now has more than 10,000 subscribers from all over the world.

“The community is made up of collectors and travelers,” he says. “I’m both. But (collectors) are the people who really fuel the engine. Big milestones are what people love. When you visit, you have a visit (tracker) and they connect you, and if you reach a milestone you would get a special pin, if you visited 25 cafes you get a milestone pin.

Besides pins, many fans collect shot glasses and T-shirts.

Some bigger Hard Rocks host swaps where superfans can come meet. Nuccio also visits many of them and documents them on his website, identifying other collectors in pictures.

Being a mega-fan, especially a massive online audience, has its perks. On his last trip to London, Nuccio took a personal tour of the “rock shop” basement, where high-end items like one of John Lennon’s favorite military jackets are stored.

Paul McCartney and Linda McCartney's band Wings played at the London cafe in the 80s.

Paul McCartney and Linda McCartney’s band Wings played at the London cafe in the 80s.

Evening Standard/Hulton Archives/Getty Images

After the lights go out

Since 1971, the lives of the original founders have taken very different directions. They fell out in 1979 and ended up dividing the brand between them, with each founder having a claim to certain parts of the world where they could own and operate new Hard Rocks.

Regarding the feud, Tigrett told the Texas Monthly in 1987 that Morton was “totally money-oriented” and preferred to work on the social side of the brand. Morton, however, just told the magazine that “I’m just minding my own business.”

Finally, in 2007, Morton and Tigrett sold the business to the Seminole Tribe of Florida. Today, the tribe operates more than 180 Hard Rock restaurants, cafes, hotels and casinos.

Morton moved to Los Angeles, where he became a film producer. His son, Harry Morton, opened a Mexican restaurant chain called Pink Taco and owned it until his death in 2019 at the age of 38.
Meanwhile, Tigrett has stepped away from the spotlight. Following the death of his wife Mo Starkey, who was once married to Beatles drummer Ringo Starr, and whom Tigrett once called his “ultimate collectible”. – he spent time living in India and is said to be a devotee of the late guru Sathya Sai Baba.
He is a board member of the Divine Will Foundation. According to the foundation’s website, it supports hospitals and food programs in India, the United States and elsewhere.

Although Seminole Gaming representatives declined interview requests from CNN, the brand’s website says several Hard Rocks are in development in China.


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