Hard Rock Cafe Seattle (photo: Mat Hayward)
Hard Rock Cafe Seattle (photo: Mat Hayward)

The Hard Rock Cafe, an international chain of themed restaurants, boasts the world’s largest collection of rock ‘n’ roll memorabilia — more than 72,000 pieces stored in 150 locations around the globe.

Legend has it that the collection started when Eric Clapton hung one of his guitars at the original London Hard Rock Cafe to mark the location of his favorite bar stool. Pete Townshend of The Who and others followed with similar items, and an idea was born.

At the new, 14,000-square-foot Hard Rock Cafe Seattle, 116 Pike St., most of the musical artifacts have strong Seattle connections. And for fans of Nirvana, Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam and other Seattle bands of the ’90s, the Emerald City store — which officially opens Wednesday (Feb. 10) — could become a kind of grunge mecca.

There are few artifacts from the Northwest’s early rock ‘n’ roll years — The Sonics, Kingsmen (“Louie, Louie”), Wailers and the like. But signs throughout the restaurant suggest that the chain plans to add more memorabilia as time goes by. A few Jini Dellaccio photos would be great.

Hard Rock Cafe Seattle gift shop (photo: Mat Hayward)
Hard Rock Cafe Seattle gift shop (photo: Mat Hayward)

When I walked into the establishment for a media tour on Monday (Feb. 8), a Pearl Jam video of “Alive” was playing on a giant screen in the dining room.

Among the artifacts: Eddie Vedder’s Yamaha acoustic guitar, with the lyrics to “Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town” taped to the side so he wouldn’t forget them; drums used by Alice in Chains’s Sean Kinney while recording the band’s “Dirt” album; the snow globe that topped Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love’s wedding cake; and a letter from Quincy Jones to Ray Charles from the early days of the Jackson Street jazz scene (presumably Charles had someone read him the letter).

“I wanted to honor Seattle,” said Giovanni Taliaferro, memorabilia designer for the Hard Rock Cafe chain.

Eddie Vedder's guitar (photo: Alex Crick)
Eddie Vedder's guitar (photo: Alex Crick)

Noting that Seattle’s music history rivals that of other major cities, Taliaferro has assembled such artifacts as the old door from Robert Lang Studios, autographed over the years by dozens of local and national musicians; and Bobby Keys’ saxophone, played during a Rolling Stones concert in Seattle.

There are other artifacts with less-direct Seattle connections. An elaborate leather jacket worn by the late Keith Moon, drummer for The Who, ended up in the hands of sound man Bob Pridden, after Pridden spilled a drink on it and Moon said something to the effect, “You broke it, you bought it.”

And there are odd scraps of rock ‘n’ roll history, among them an American Express delinquency notice addressed to John Lennon. One of Lennon’s assistants had scribbled “Who screwed up?” on the face of it, and someone else wrote, simply, “John.” I wonder if it affected Lennon’s credit score.

With or without the memorabilia, the Hard Rock is an impressive addition to the once derelict block of Pike Street between Second and First Avenues. With its eye-popping marquee neon guitar (a replica of the Fender Mustang that Cobain played in the “Smells Like Teen Spirit” video), the restaurant and bar will surely be a magnet for tourists and rock fans.

Adjacent to the entry is the Rock Shop, a gift shop offering logo merchandise, including distinctive Hard Rock Cafe Seattle T-shirts of various designs.

The Hard Rock Cafe's iconic T-shirt (photo: Alex Crick)
The Hard Rock Cafe's iconic T-shirt (photo: Alex Crick)

The main floor features a stylish restaurant and bar with walls generously decorated with rock memorabilia. With its blend of earthy colors — black, brown, light brown and gray — the first floor has a retro, mid-century feel. The bar features a stacked stone wall, pretty cool looking. The Hard Rock Cafe describes the motif as “Rustic Refined.”

On the second floor is another bar with a 400-capacity performance space equipped with JBL subwoofers and loudspeaker arrays. Live concerts, including matinee shows, will begin March 2 (schedule to be announced).

Wonder of wonders (for rainy Seattle) is a top-floor, open-air lounge with service bar, lounge seating and two gas fire pits. The rooftop terrace features a view of the neon Pike Place Market sign, Elliott Bay and the Olympic Mountains. All that’s missing is a wide-screen TV for sports events.

The Hard Rock is a show place for multi-touch, multimedia technology. Innovations include an interactive, 52-inch “Rock Wall Solo” touch screen where patrons can view images and videos, as well as touch screens in the cafe booths, allowing diners to view memorabilia and merchandise and vote on videos to be played on the sound system.

Rooftop lounge at Hard Rock Cafe Seattle (photo: Alex Crick)
Rooftop lounge at Hard Rock Cafe Seattle (photo: Alex Crick)

In keeping with the chain’s “Save the Planet” creed, the Seattle store was designed for eco-friendly Gold LEED certification, as defined by the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System.

But the menu is laden with burgers and ribs, from the S.O.B. burger (with chipotle pepper puree) to the hickory-smoked barbecue ribs. Where’s the beef (or pork)? It’s right here. Not very earth-friendly, but great for tourists. And the fries are voluminous. Among the drink concoctions is the Roadie, featuring cherry bourbon and citrus-flavored vodka.

Hard Rock International has long been committed to philanthropic causes, and slogans throughout the establishment offer reminders: “Love All, Serve All,” “Save the Planet,” “Take Time to Be Kind” and “All Is One.” The company has participated in such events as “Live Aid” in 1985 and the Nelson Mandela Tribute at London’s Wembley Stadium.

Depending on your point of view, the new Hard Rock Cafe will either complement the other major music establishments downtown — the Crocodile Cafe, Showbox at the Market and the Triple Door — or give them heartburn. Yet each fills a different niche. Long live Seattle rock ‘n’ roll.

Let me know what you think of Seattle’s first Hard Rock Cafe. And of all the artifacts, what do you like the most?

3 Replies to “Hard Rock Cafe opens for business in Seattle”

  1. I’m scratching my head over the facade of the building.

    They gutted the existing structure and maintained the shell and most of the external elements, but the wide gray metallic band that splits the two levels is just plain ugly and uninspired, almost as if it was a late concession to a need to trim the construction budget (note: construction did seem to take forever).

    It is almost like, if they’re going to do that why bother keeping the rest of the original facade?

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