While Las Vegas was experiencing a Super Bowl hangover last Monday, a major moment was taking place on Paradise Road and Harmon Avenue.
The Hard Rock Hotel, which for 25 years had served as a destination for the hip and cool crowd, was padlocking its doors. Come November, it will re-open as the rebranded Virgin Hotel. Yes, the same Virgin of Richard Branson.
Unfortunately, I was unable to pay my respects in person. The Hard Rock had served my purposes in numerous ways. I covered beach volleyball and boxing there. I attended concerts at The Joint. I grabbed a late-night meal at Mr. Lucky’s now and then. I lost more than a couple of bets in the race and sports book run by Cantor Gaming. I had a beer or three at the center bar, the ultimate pick up spot in Vegas. I’d take a moment to stare at the Rock ‘n’ Roll artifacts in the lobby. I even ventured out to the pool one hot summer Sunday afternoon for a little Rehab, a scene I definitely did not fit into.
But like the city itself, the Hard Rock is positioning itself for transformation. I’m sure the Virgin Hotel will be swank, cool and captivating. Hopefully, it’ll still be free to park there, something us locals are accustomed to having, though it is becoming an increasingly tougher endeavor.
I did get over there in December before the Las Vegas Bowl and got what would be one last look at the Hard Rock. The original Hard Rock Cafe, the precursor to the hotel, had its doors shuttered a while ago and I vividly recall friends asking me to pick up shotglasses for them to add to their Hard Rock collection. I guess it was more fun collecting shotglasses than say, stamps or casino chips.
Walking around, it seemed like business as usual. There was a line to get coffee. The tattoo parlor was quiet, though it would be busy as I departed (and no, I never got inked – I have an aversion for needles and my pain tolerance level is fairly low). Lucky’s was getting good traffic (I wonder how many customers knew about the $7.77 steak and shrimp special which wasn’t on the menu?). The bar was relatively busy and there were enough people gambling to make it feel like it was a normal day.
The other restaurants weren’t as recognizable to me as over 25 years, as there was a lot of turnover. But there was still a place where you could get tacos, or a steak or some fish.
After leaving, I thought I’d get over there one more time before they put the chain on those guitar-door handles Monday. But I didn’t.
So I’ll keep the memories of watching lots of great boxing matches at The Joint, great fighters such as Errol Spence and Leo Santa Cruz and locals Jessie Vargas, Ishe Smith and the Magdaleno brothers, Diego and Jessie. I’ll remember seeing George Thorogood duck-walk across the stage a la Chuck Berry.
And as we get older, memories are all we sometimes have. We may not like them all, but we own them. The Hard Rock will join a long list of Las Vegas hotel-casinos that have fallen by the wayside. But it will hold a unique place in the hearts of those who visited and grabbed hold of one of those guitar-shaped handles to gain entry to what was a cool place to venture into.
As Bruce Springsteen says, everything that dies someday comes back. Even in Vegas.