This week’s SATURDAY CLASSIC looks at Six “Secrets” of the Hard Rock Cafe Orlando. Located in CityWalk, directly between Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure, the Hard Rock Cafe in Orlando is the largest Hard Rock in the entire world. With a giant collection of memorabilia that is second to maybe only the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, this particular Hard Rock venue is a dream come true for music lovers. Let’s take a look at the top six “secrets,” shall we? (Remember, clicking on any picture will open it up in full size)
# 6– A piece of the Berlin Wall sits outside
This is one item that many guests haven’t noticed even if they have been to the Hard Rock Cafe many times. On the side of the building, on the walk way which leads to the Blue Man Group, sits a piece of the actual Berlin Wall. An amazing piece of history, the Hard Rock has one the few pieces of the Berlin Wall that you can see in America. There is a strong relationship between rock n’ roll and the fall of communism in the 1980s, with this slab of the Wall being a reminder of that. In related trivia, the Hard Rock Cafe in Munich, Germany has a guitar on display that was actually carved from a piece of the Wall.
#5 – The view of the Hard Rock Hotel from the Cafe is meant to evoke imagery from The Eagles’ Hotel California
One of Universal’s three on-site hotels, the Hard Rock Hotel paid homage in its design to the mission-style architecture found on the cover to The Eagle’s seminal Hotel California album cover. The Hard Rock Cafe took that tribute to the next level and truly evokes the spirit of one of rock’s all time greatest albums when looking at the hotel through three strategically placed palm trees.
# 4 – You Can Pick the Music that is Played at the Hard Rock Cafe
One of the more interesting job titles at the Hard Rock is a VIBE host. The VIBE hosts walk around the entire restaurant, meeting with guests and answering any questions they may have about the Hard Rock Cafe while doing their best to create “an experience” for each guest. They also carry with them an iPad that contains an app which allows guests to pick out songs that will play throughout the restaurant. I’ve been able to able to pick out sports games I wanted to watch at other places, but not since the long gone days of jukeboxes have I been able to pick a song that the entire restaurant would hear. Our table chose “Cherub Rock” by the Smashing Pumpkins, “Glory Days” by Bruce Springsteen, and Nirvana‘s “The Man Who Sold The World.”
# 3 – The Attic
One of the jobs that the VIBE host has, is being able to give tours of the restaurant during the day. This VIP tour will take you throughout both floors of the restaurant, the Hard Rock Live venue, and into several “backstage” areas that are used by many of the musical acts that play at the Hard Rock. One of my favorite rooms was called The Attic and can best be described as “The Room of Requirement from Hogwarts Castle if it were designed by the members of Van Halen in 1984.” Just a ton of the weirdest stuff, all of which you can interact with. In fact, you’re encouraged to pick things up and fool around with them. There are electric guitars and electric chairs. Seriously. There’s an electric chair in the room that was used by the band Disturbed. There’s a giant drum cymbal signed by Vinnie Paul from Pantera, a chair from the now torn down Montreal Forum, and an actual throne. That’s right, you can do you best “Winter Is Coming (to Orlando)” pose while sitting on the throne.
If that wasn’t cool enough, the room is littered with autographs on every single wall. Now many of these are just regular people writing on the walls similar to Disney fans leaving their mark on a painting of Tony Baxter, but we found many celebrities along the walls including the members of group Poison, Gwen Stafani and her band mates in No Doubt, Alice Cooper, Carlos Santana, Marshall Lytle (of “Rock Around the Clock” fame), the members of the comedy troupe Kids in the Hall, Matt Lewis (Neville Longbottom in the Potter movies) and more.
One of the autographs was from the singer Gavin Rossdale, who actually stood on the throne itself to write his name high up on the wall. A picture of Rossdale sitting in the throne is downstairs among the wall of photos of the musical acts that have played at the Hard Rock Live over the years. The throne itself is actually from the Broadway run of “The King and I” when it featured Yul Brynner in the starring role. I really enjoyed my time in The Attic as not only was it interesting being able to interact with all the various elements, but each item had a story behind it. Just fascinating stuff.
# 2 – The John Lennon Room
I can say without a doubt that if you are a fan of the Beatles, especially John Lennon, you need to make a trip to Orlando just to experience what the Hard Rock Cafe has to offer. One of the areas we got to explore was the John Lennon Room. Containing items either donated by Yoko Ono or bought over the years by the Hard Rock, the John Lennon Room is like no other. The first striking thing about the room is how much the color white dominates everything, presumably because of its association with peace, tranquility and goodness. On the walls are pictures of John (and Yoko) or art drawn by Lennon himself. The room has a love seat that John wrote many Beatles and solo songs while sitting on. While the piano in the room isn’t the one actually used by Lennon, it is a replica and has a very unique feature: over 50 of the piano keys are signed by some of the most well known piano players. Billy Joel, Paul McCartney, Elton John, Fats Domino, and Herbie Hancock are all represented on the keys. This piano was acquired at an auction in 1991 with the proceeds benefitting Give Kids the World.
Outside of the Lennon Room you are going to run into Beatles memorabilia almost everywhere you go. In one hallway you’ll find the marriage certificate for John and Yoko. In another hallway you’ll find a stunning photo with John and Stu Sutcliffe. Your next turn has you running into a signed airline menu from the flight The Beatles took from the UK to America to perform their legendary first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. Yet another room has items from the Beatles from the period when Pete Best was with the band. It’s crazy!
However, the highlight for many a Beatles fan may be the Roots of Rock room on the second floor of the restaurant. The entrance to this dining room is built out of bricks straight from England and represent the famous Cavern Club, where the Beatles played over 200 concerts in their formative years. Among the many items within the room is a hand painted poster advertising The Beatles, of which there is only two known copies in the world (the other copy resides the office of the Hard Rock CEO). I would consider myself, at best, a casual fan of the Beatles and I was completely blown away by the Hard Rock’s collection. The rest of the Roots of Rock room is filled to brim with history dedicated to “CBGB” (Country, Bluegrass and Blues) music, including a contract signed by Fats Domino that stipulated he could end a concert at any time if the building he was in turned on an air conditioner (Fats developed his voice singing in southern churches, which had no A/C and he found out later that A/C affected his voice). Amazing stuff.
# 1 – The Woodstock Room
Like the Roots of Rock room, the Woodstock Room is a dining room on the second floor of the restaurant. It is also filled from top to bottom with rock and roll items. However, two things made this room stand out to me. One was the gorgeous ceiling, and the other was the fact that this room is perfectly acoustic. There is a gold circle plate in the middle of the room, and if you stand on that circle and talk you will immediately hear your own echo. This was mind blowing and impossible to capture in words. I would expect to find this type of experience in a Museum of Science, not in a restaurant in CityWalk. A fantastic surprise.
This article doesn’t even scratch the surface of what the Hard Rock Cafe has to offer. While most people recognize the red strat guitar logo that has become synonymous with the Hard Rock brand, many don’t know that the original guitar was a gift from Eric Clapton and was the first piece of memorabilia ever obtained by the Hard Rock company. The guitar is represented throughout this Hard Rock Cafe in many areas, including a 30 foot version on the front of the building and a gigantic one on the ground itself in which stools are used for the tuning keys. The music video for Creed’s “Higher” was filmed at this Hard Rock. And have we mentioned the menu? Twisted Mac & Cheese is a must.
So there you have it, Six “secrets” of the Hard Rock Cafe Orlando. This restaurant just moved straight to the top of my list in CityWalk and I would recommend talking to the VIBE host at the front desk to inquire about getting a tour. If you are a fan of music history, run – don’t walk – as this will be one of the most incredible experiences of your life. I’m going to call it “like the Smithsonian, except with music and food.” Nailed it.
See you next weekend for the latest installment of the SATURDAY SIX, where we’ll look at something fun from the world of Disney and Universal. If you enjoyed yourself, be sure to check out The Magic, The Memories, and Merch! articles, or, for your listening pleasure, check out the Pardon the Pixie Dust podcast. You can also follow Your Humble Author on Twitter (@derekburgan)
Special Thanks to crack staff photographer Brandon Glover and blogger to the stars Megan Stump for their invaluable assistance with this article. Be sure to also check out Brandon on The Park Blogger podcast with co-hosts Aengus Mackenzie and Brian Carey.
FINAL PLUG! Did you know The Unofficial Guide to Universal Orlando has a special edition of the SATURDAY SIX in it? Finally, someone came up with an actual reason to read a book. PRE-ORDER this baby now! (For every copy sold, a percentage of the profits* go towards buying a DVD of the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train rap video.)