Cheap and cheerful was the order of the day as the recession bit. Part of the international chain, The Hard Rock Café opened in Sydney, with chirpy wait staff, loud music, an American-style menu and rock memorabilia. In 1991 it was followed by Planet Hollywood. The original Hard Rock Café Sydney closed in 2007 but has been revived by new franchisees. Planet Hollywood survives overseas (after two bankruptcies) but its Australian restaurants are long gone.
Strangely enough, the first Hard Rock Café opened not in the United States but in London. It was opened by two Americans, Isaac Tigrett and Peter Morton in an old Rolls Royce dealership in 1971. It was soon embraced by celebrities and everyday burger fans alike.
The collection of memorabilia began with guitars donated by rock legends Eric Clapton and Pete Townshend and has been expanding ever since. The Hard Rock now boasts that it owns Madonna’s BoyToy Wedding Dress, John Lennon’s glasses, Jim Morrison’s leather pants, the doors of the Abbey Road Studios, Elvis’s studded jumpsuit, Frank Sinatra’s tuxedo and Michael Jackson’s red “Beat It” jacket among its 80,00o pieces of music history.
The first American Hard Rock Café opened in Los Angeles in 1982, followed the next year by one in Tokyo. The brand expanded to have casinos, hotels, cafés and live music venues worldwide. In 2007 the brand was purchased by the Seminole Tribe of Florida.
The first Hard Rock Café in Australia opened in Crown Street, Darlinghurst and traded until 2007. A new café opened in 2011 in the tourist hub of Darling Harbour. A Surfers Paradise Hard Rock opened in 1996. As of mid-2020, both were still going.
The menu continued to feature the old favourites – nachos, chicken wings, chicken mac and cheese and burgers, complemented by Hard Rock Gravy, Tennessee Barbecue Sauce, or Chimichurri. Or how about some hand-pulled smoked pork with hickory barbecue sauce on a toasted brioche bun? Served with seasoned fries, cowboy beans and citrus coleslaw.
There were concessions to Aussie tastes though: the menu included a chicken parma and the Aussie burger had beetroot. And in 2020 even the Hard Rock was not a quinoa-free zone. You could go meat-free and order a homemade patty of quinoa, red onion, portobello mushroom, eggs, pecans, barley, soy sauce, and breadcrumbs, topped with hummus, arugula, tomato, grilled red onion and cheddar cheese.
I have had a couple of emails from Steve Clayton, who was the builder for both the Hard Rock Café and Planet Hollywood in Sydney. He made some interesting comments on the photo above. Steve wrote:
Interesting to note that the photo is a very early shot shortly after opening, demonstrated by no beer taps at the bar. When I proposed beer taps to Peter Morton he advised, no, it was traditional that HRC only had bottled beer. I advised that Aussies drink a lot of beer and that labor cost in supplying the bottled beer and removing empties would be prohibitive. Contrary to his wishes, I installed a python to run beer lines from the cool room on the first floor to the bar on the ground floor, underneath the concrete floor slab. It was not long after opening that management had to install beer taps. Both HRC and PH were the most exciting projects I constructed and are still projects that are discussed amongst a small group of participants.
Another story that may be of interest is that the 55 Cadillac Convertible mounted above the bar was originally designed to point to the rear so that when you entered the restaurant you looked at the rear of the car. On one of Peter Morton’s rare visits to Sydney, I pleaded with him to turn the car around so that the very recognisable grille of the Caddy met your eyes when entering the restaurant. Peter said he would think about it. That night with a 55 tonne crane blocking Crown Street, we had a crew of about 15 people lowering the Caddy through the roof to be welded onto two steel columns. They had started tack welding the car in place when Peter turned up around midnight. Everything was stopped while Peter while walking around looking at the prop, asked people their opinion. Finally he said “turn it around” then left. Other than constructing the facility I felt that being responsible for turning that car around as you see in the photo was one of my biggest contributions with what I felt was such a great venue.