Hard Rock, Part 1: Cafés

The original Hard Rock Café was co-founded in 1971 by two Americans in London’s West End. Since then, it has grown to comprise a chain of Rock ‘n’ Roll themed cafés (185), hotels (25), and casinos (12) that are all located at famous tourist sights around the world. Although it has been known for its rock memorabilia since 1979, currently holding over 80,000 items in its archive, it actually began with an eclectic décor. Today, the cafés both purchase and solicit donations of music memorabilia, including: autographed guitars, touring costumes, rare photographs, concert programs, music awards, gold albums, and other significant items. The company’s famous guitar logo was actually modeled after the Chevrolet logo.

Hard Rock’s archive is currently the largest private collection of Rock ‘n’ Roll memorabilia in the world. Marquee pieces can be found at the London Vault, located in the retail Rock Shop of the original café, which still remains open and free to visitors. Since 1985, some 44,000 unique Hard Rock lapel pins have been made, including everything from the classic city-based guitar pins to ones commemorating various rock bands, and from  steampunk to Barbie and Hello Kitty!

Some of the most important holdings in the collection include:

  • The coach bus used in the 1967 Beatles’ film Magical Mystery Tour
  • A pair of John Lennon’s glasses
  • Madonna’s dress from “Like a Virgin”
  • Michael Jackson’s red jacket from “Beat It”
  • Jimi Hendrix’s Flying V guitar

The collection first began with an un-signed Red Fender Lead II guitar from Eric Clapton, who was a regular at the first café in London. He had wanted the guitar to hang over his regular seat in order to lay claim to that spot. As a result, this prompted Pete Townshend of The Who to donate one of his guitars with the note, “Mine’s as good as his! Love, Pete”. The first live concert appearance was an impromptu one by Paul McCartney and Wings in 1973. Today, some 15,000 live performances are held at Hard Rock venues every year!

In 2007, the Seminole Indians, who owned two Hard Rock casinos in Florida, went all in and bought the entire company for nearly $1 billion.

  • Visited:
    • San Francisco – Fisherman’s Wharf (1991; closed 2002)
    • Beijing (1996, above; closed 2012)
    • Hong Kong – Kowloon (1997; closed 2008)
    • Orlando – Universal CityWalk complex (1999)
    • Minneapolis – Mall of America (2002; closed 2011)

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