TICK, TOCK, HARD ROCK: Recalling the resort’s heyday and highlights as demolition and transformation begin
When the Hard Rock Cafe opened with an Aerosmith concert in September 1990, thousands crowded the intersection of Paradise Road and Harmon Avenue to herald a new brand of entertainment to Las Vegas.
Hostess Kathryn Bohannon and bartender Cindy Faraci remember the night vividly. When the sound system went down and the band’s performance was delayed, a near-riot broke out, they recalled.
Bohannon, now a rooms controller for the front desk of Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, and Faraci, general manager of Pink Taco inside the resort, were among the original employees who attended the first day of the Hard Rock Café’s demolition on Nov. 18, part of the casino-hotel’s transition to Virgin Hotels Las Vegas next year.
“I have some great memories,” Bohannon said. “This is what got me out to Las Vegas was opening this Hard Rock Cafe and then moving on to the hotel. … I met a lot of great people, and I’m very happy to be part of this today.”
About 2,000 tickets for Aerosmith’s 1990 appearance, which was a benefit for St. Jude’s Ranch for Children, sold for $250, according to a story by Mike Weatherford in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. An additional 300 standing-room-only tickets for a pit area in front of the stage went for $150 each. A 34,000-square-foot tent outside the cafe accommodated the concert.
A neon-lit, 82-foot-tall guitar inspired by Pete Townshend’s legendary No. 9 Gibson Guitar stood out front. It would become a beacon for celebrities, musicians and raucous rock ’n’ roll fans for almost three decades.
Inside the café was a shrine to Elvis Presley and original rock memorabilia. It included an audacious costume worn by Elton John, a guitar used by Eric Clapton and a zebra-striped jacket worn by David Bowie during his “Ziggy Stardust” days, according to a report by the late Michael Paskevich in the Review-Journal the day before the event.
“Even those who have seen a Hard Rock before are likely to be impressed by the liberal use of lacquered dark woods and brass rails, elevated dining areas and overall cozy appeal of the large dining room and adjacent bar; the latter replete with a second oversize guitar featuring lighted fiber optic strings,” Paskevich wrote.
Before closing on Dec. 31, 2016, the cafe was featured in Entourage, Honey I Blew Up the Kid and Con Air. The iconic guitar sign is now safely ensconced at the Neon Museum.
The tear-down of the café will accommodate a “new sense of arrival” for Virgin Hotels Las Vegas next year, said Richard Bosworth, CEO of owner JC Hospitality. There will be landscaping and a more “user-friendly entrance” to facilitate ride-shares, he added.
The Hard Rock Hotel & Casino will close at 4 p.m. Monday, Feb. 3, the day after the Super Bowl, and reopen as Virgin Hotels Las Vegas in November 2020.
“It’s quite a task to lock a property and shut a property down that’s been so iconic and more for 25 years, but it’s the only way we felt we could really make way for the future,” Bosworth said.
The Hard Rock, Bosworth notes, should be credited with changing “the vibe of integrated resorts” in Las Vegas, boosting the importance of food and beverage services and driving the nightclub industry. The day-club Rehab ruled the pool season for many years, inspired other resorts and brought national attention to the property.
“A number of guests have come up to me in the last year and a half who indicated how important the Hard Rock’s been to them — whether they met their spouse here at a concert or they were here at the Center Bar or the nights they spent at Mr. Lucky’s or (nightclubs) Baby’s or Body English or in The Joint,” Bosworth said.
“Those messages have not been lost with us … This was a very important location for local residents, and we’re trying to preserve that energy and that vibe in bringing that forward into the future.”
Virgin Hotels Las Vegas will feature 1,504 newly appointed chambers, grand chambers, suites and penthouse suites with Virgin’s patented bed and the latest in-room technology. There will be what Bosworth called an “immersive” and “exhilarating” 60,000-square-foot casino, operated by Mohegan Gaming & Entertainment, the first Native American presence in the resort corridor. Five acres of poolside space, the flagship Commons Club restaurant and lounge and 130,000 square feet of event and meeting space will be among other property highlights. AEG Presents will manage, operate and book The Joint.
Bosworth said he hopes to retain the majority of the Hard Rock’s 1,850 employees through the “Stick Around and Come Back” program. Employees still with the property when it closes will be paid a retention bonus in a lump sum, up to 10 weeks of payment. Those who want to work in the new Virgin Hotels Las Vegas property will not be required to interview again for their previously held jobs. The “Keep the Band Together” program offers wellness workshops, lifelong learning classes, English as a Second Language classes, and GED preparation for team members who have been part of the cafe and casino-hotel.
Nevada residents receive a 20 percent discount at Pink Taco and Mr. Lucky’s through Dec. 30. The “Farewell Tour” memorabilia exhibition is open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays through Dec. 31. Admission is free.
“The Hard Rock Casino Hotel deserves its appropriate farewell and its appropriate transformation,” Bosworth said. “What we’ve tried to do is take all the best of what has been designed and successful here to [Hard Rock cofounder] Peter Morton’s original plan and carry that forward into the future.”
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