LAST FRIDAY NIGHT, on the occasion of the grand opening of Salt Lake City's very own Hard Rock Cafe, I was seated as soon as I walked in the door.

I got a great table, right up front. Within minutes, I was slicing into a New York steak, medium rare, with a side of hash browns.I should probably mention that this was at Bill & Nada's Cafe across the street.

To get into the actual Hard Rock Cafe at Trolley Square could take a while. Demand is high. Seating is limited. If you tried to dine there this past grand opening weekend you know what I mean.

When our party of three showed up on Friday about 9:45 p.m., they'd already cut off the waiting list - a full three hours before closing time. We couldn't even wait to wait.

Perhaps a friendly $50 handshake with the hostess might have produced an exception, but that's when I looked up and saw the aura of Bill & Nada's winking at us, kitty corner.

I was with a discriminating dinner crowd that included my brother and my nephew. One of them said, "Food's food," and we were off to Plan B.

If you squint, Bill & Nada's could be the Hard Rock Cafe.

True, it is 52 years older. The Marines had barely finished planting the flag on Iwo Jima when Bill & Nada's opened its doors in 1946. The first Hard Rock Cafe - London, 1971 - was still 25 years and a zillion ruined rain forest acres away from opening and Bill & Nada's had already poured about a million gallons of Boyd's Coffee. Bill & Nada's is in the Boyd's Coffee Hall of Fame, and there's a plaque by the cash register to prove it.

But other than the age differences, they're a lot alike.

Memorabilia dots the walls at the Hard Rock. Memorabilia dots the walls at Bill & Nada's. Well, one of the walls, mostly in the form of Days of '47 parade trophies.

You can buy hats and T-shirts at either store. And both feature nostalgic music, although there is a charge at Bill & Nada's - two plays for a quarter. The night we were there, I was hoping to play Nancy Sinatra doing "Summer Wine" with Lee Hazelwood - I used to love that song - but someone else got to the juke box first and played Tennessee Ernie Ford singing "Sixteen Tons."

In yet another similarity, the cafes on opposite sides of 600 South both offer large T-bone steaks. The "Texas T-bone" at the Hard Rock is 20 ounces of beef for $15.99, while the "Large, Large T-bone" at Bill & Nada's is at least 20 ounces for a mere $8.50.

The Hard Rock features guitars once played, and sometimes smashed, by rockers.

Bill & Nada's features a clientele at the counter that looks like they could have once been rockers and may have smashed a guitar or two in their time.

After polishing off our carefully selected entrees - a chicken fried steak, a hamburger deluxe and the New York steak-and-eggs special - we were left with only one remaining need.


Not to disparage Bill & Nada's fine menu, but under the heading "Yummy Desserts" were these choices: "Strawberry Shortcake (in season). Jello. Tapioca Pudding. Cake - white or chocolate."

It was almost 11. We decided to see if the Hard Rock would let us in for dessert. The fabled Heath Bar Rain Forest Nut Crunch Sundae sounded just about right.

But we walked across the street only to find the same mob scene as before. Only more surly. The hostess working the desk held up a fistful of waiting list pages - containing all the names of the lucky grand opening dinner parties.

"Forty-six pages," she said. "At 11 lines per page. You figure it out."

So we left. As we walked back to Bill & Nada's to our car, I couldn't help but notice the sign out front: "Open 24 hours. We never close."

As Boyd's Coffee would be the first to tell you, they are not kidding.