Monday, February 25, 2008

Not Much "Rocks" About the Hard Rock Cafe

Originally published in D-Tales here.

This past Friday, the Detroit Guerrillas headed out to "get rocked at Hard Rock." The turnout was impressive--we had the bar area packed and the 3 bartenders hustled all night long--but the atmosphere? Bleh.

Let it be known that the Hard Rock Cafe is one of my least favorite bars in all of Detroit. Why? Well, this is Detroit's first (and please God please let it be only) foray into corporate restauranteuring. With the exception of the occassional Subway or Au Bon Pain, most restaurants in Detroit are independently owned and operated (and I cannot begin to express just how this has helped shape the dining culture of Detroit, so often underrated but so unique and creative in its own right). Hard Rock is the big glaring exception here, and it shows. Boy, does it show.

There's nothing quite like a corporate executive chef cranking out menus from his office suite in California and ensuring all food items are ordered from the same vendors around the world so as to create a a sense of consistency throughout all franchises, offering travelers a sense of security as they traipse through foreign lands, unsure of what to eat for fear of not being able to read the menus and accidentally ordering something too exotic for their palette, until they see the beacon of the neon Hard Rock guitar sign, creating a sense of familiarity and a feeling of home. Yes, there is little the (American) foreign traveler enjoys more than feeling a sense of home in their meal options. This is the ultimate in McTravel Syndrome. This is the crowd the international chain of Hard Rock Cafes panders too. And yay for Detroit for being able to share in this homogenizing experience.

First of all, by Hard Rock Cafe standards, ours just sucks. You would think the birthplace of Motown, Madonna, Eminem, techno music as a genre, rock legends such as Bob Seger and Ted Nugent, Kid Rock, and garage rock as it is known today (with thanks to the White Stripes) would have a lot to show off. Yeah, you would think that. But it doesn't. No, it sure doesn't. A couple of framed publicity stills, maybe an outfit here or there, and a handful of guitars comprises the HRC Detroit collection. Oh, but there is a huge stained glass mural of KISS--who weren't even from Detroit.

Secondly, much like for the midwesterner in Taipei looking for something to eat that will agree with his meat-and-potatoes intestines, the surbanite who wanders into Detroit for a sporting event or for ice skating with the kiddies at Campus Martius will find himself comforted by the neon sign of familiarity (as he has undoubtedly dined at HRCs in Florida on family vaca or Hawaii on his honeymoon). Rather than explore the many other fine dining gems the city has to offer, he goes for what he knows: the Hard Rock Cafe. And to commemorate this experience in the (hush of awe) city, he'll even buy his daughters souvenir T-shirts.

This is the crowd you get at the Hard Rock Cafe.

The menu--good old deep-fried American fare in too-large portions, topped off with ooey-gooey decadent desserts. It's all tasty, don't get me wrong. And as tasty as it is here, it will be exactly the same wherever else in the world one might wander into an HRC. The drinks are way overpriced (2 souvenir-sized beers with 3 refills was $60.00), and the liquor/beer selection is nothing to be impressed by.

The music--okay, I like the music, and they did offer a nice mix of lesser-known metal bands (amongst the corporate rock giants). However, in the 50 years of rock-and-roll the HRC is supposed to be celebrating, they could probably mix in something pre-2002 every once in awhile. How about some Stones? Or the Smiths, that would be cool! But no. Lots of Linkin Park. The Killers. Franz Ferdinand. Sevendust. All new and hip. Nothing that revers the history of rock.

The inside is loud, the clientele irritating, the memorabilia disappointing, the food generic, the drinks expensive...there is really no reason to ever go here ever, unless you need to pander to your own suburbanite friends who need to feel "safe" (both in terms of location and parking as well as food options) when visiting the city--their own understanding of an exotic foreign land.

Tell them to buy a T-shirt to commemorate their foreign travels. It can be added to their collection, right next to the Orlando and Chicago HRC T's.