This Tuesday, December 21, the long-awaited Hard Rock Cafe at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino will be open to the public. I have to admit that I was expecting the usual layout and design that I've experienced in the others I've visited in numerous cities hard woods from floor to ceiling, and TVs everywhere (well, that last part hasn't changed). But this 17,500-sq. ft., 371-seat addition to the worldwide chain of rock n' roll-themed cafes is not only about the food and music memorabilia, it also integrates technology, gaming and live performances, serving as a prototype for future cafe designs.
Head around the right side of the canopied bar and experience the Hard Rock Interactive Wall two-82-inch flat screens and two 30-inch screens that tower about 12 feet high and allow guests to browse through the 2,000 rock memorabilia items archived thus far of the 73,000+ items in Hard Rock's possession in their 166 venues worldwide. Users can search for items by artist, music genre and by cafe location, using their fingertips to scroll around and magnify items to see every minute detail. My favorite feature of these touch screens is that guests can vote on the music videos played on the large, flat panel TVs around the restaurant.
The first of its kind, this Hard Rock Cafe will include a blackjack pit. Located to the right of the bar, the Hard Rock Girl gaming room will be decked wall to wall with memorabilia of legendary ladies of music: costumes and jewelry once belonging to Cher, Barbra Streisand, Madonna and Shakira will be on display. And, to lend even more estrogen to this area, go-go dancers will provide live entertainment.
A highlight of this Hard Rock Cafe's kitchen is its temperature-controlled "burger bar" where guests can watch the cooks grind all of the beef used in the burgers. Getting the chance to see the quality meat used and knowing that your burger was freshly ground less than an hour before hitting the grill make it worth the price tag.
Last but not least, the music. Cafe by day, live performance venue by night, the stage at the back of the restaurant is probably the best feature of this place. It's reminiscent of a VH1 Unplugged concert stage, where the performers will be just feet from the audience. For larger shows, the tables on the floor can be moved to make way for 700 standing guests, or for more intimate shows, it can seat 200-plus spectators.
Well-known musical acts will also be performing here, such as Sister Hazel on New Year's Eve and Jim Belushi & The Sacred Hearts on Friday, January 28th. Okay, sure, those aren't huge names in music, but I was also told that the Foo Fighters will be one of the acts in the not-too-distant future (the cafe is still in the process of booking performers). And the lineup won't be limited to musical acts. Stand-up comedians will also be doing gigs here, beginning with Ralph Harris on Friday, January 17th.
If you collect t-shirts and souvenirs from every Hard Rock Cafe you visit, or just want to peruse their wares while you wait for your table, the Rock Shop is where it's at. My personal favorites are the Signature Series shirts designed by artists like Bon Jovi, Shakira and Ozzy Osbourne (the latter two are ones I'll admit to owning); part of the proceeds from the shirts is donated to various charitable organizations.
All in all, I have to say that I was quite impressed with this new archetype of the Hard Rock Cafe chain. Its glossy multimedia makeover sets it apart from the rest, but it still retains the classic fare, eclectic-looking staff and rocking music.
Will it just be a destination for tourists? With the exclusive concerts and weekly events, I don't think so. It may not be a spot residents will visit on a regular basis (unless you live near), but for most it would make a great night out once every few months for dinner and a show.
Purchase event tickets through Ticketmaster. 5224 Orient Road, Tampa; 866-502-7529, seminolehardrock.com.