Swing down West 57th Street, past Carnegie Hall and the Russian Tea Room, and pull up when you see the tail of a Cadillac shoved into a building. That's the awning of the Hard Rock Cafe.
Outside the doors stand a pair of brass gasoline pumps. Inside is a crowd of mostly young patrons who come to munch big hamburgers, steaks or barbecue, pick up good vibrations and gawk at probably the most glittering collection of rock and roll memorabilia in the world.The Hard Rock Cafe was inspired by the atmosphere of a Memphis truck stop. Friendly waitresses wear white "diner dresses" with their names embroidered on the chest. The menu offers "Tennessee style BBQ pork ribs," and "pig" sandwiches, (written in parentheses for Yankees and other foreigners.) But the concept has clearly outgrown its roots.
Encased on the walls are such relics as Prince's purple rain coat, Ringo Starr's snare drum, Jimi Hendrix's hat, and guitars from such legendary strummers as Keith Richards, Eric Clapton and Bo Diddley. Gold records from bands such as The Beatles, The Band and The Who blanket the walls. And presiding majestically over it all is Elvis' black stage jumpsuit jeweled and embroidered and raised in a golden throne high above the center of the main room.
On a recent night, the sound system was playing John Hiatt's "Memphis in the Meantime." And people like Patsy Nickles, 27, a New York singer, were waiting for tables.
"The music is things you haven't heard in a long time," said Miss Nickles, who was wearing a black leather jacket, pants, a man's tie and a tilted ponytail. "And it's got the best cheeseburgers in town."
Robin Wood, 27, a Miami flight attendant, likes the cafe because, "It's not a meat market." She feels OK going there alone or with a girlfriend.
"At lunch they turn the music way down, and it's kind of intimate," shouted Tony White, 30, who was there with his wife and two children. "But at night it rocks."
Celebrities who are supposed to be regulars of the cafe include Robin Williams, Eddie Murphy, Carly Simon and Sting. But Deirdre Stillwagon, 24, also a repeat customer, has never seen them. "I keep hearing about Brooke Shields," said the Greensboro, N.C., resident. "But all I see are tourists."
The cafe is such an assault on the senses with its high-volume music and crowded decor it doesn't seem to matter what people wear. Many patrons looked come-as-you-are. That included a New York marathon runner in his racing shorts and tank top. Generally, girls liked fancy sweaters and acid-washed jeans, while young men leaned toward denim jackets.
The Hard Rock Cafe is not confined to New York. The restaurants began in London, and there are six worldwide.