Inside Hard Rock's hidden closet
Published: May 12, 2011
With 149 Hard Rock locations in 53 countries - including cafés, hotels, casinos and live venues - the company is not shy about super-stocking its locations with iconic pieces. The Orlando Hard Rock Cafe - the company's largest - overflows with so many pieces lining the walls that they almost blur into the background: Bootsy Collins' sunglasses; a letter from John Lennon to his roadie; the bass John Entwistle played in the Tommy movie; the vehicle registration for Bruce Springsteen's 1975 GMC van. And while cooling and feeding tourists is a large part of Hard Rock's business, Nolan insists that food and T-shirts play second fiddle to the real stars of the show.
"If you're an enthusiast and you want to see this stuff, you can - for free," Nolan says. "Take this '59 Les Paul that's in Boston. For a young guitar player, things like that are unattainable, mythological items: the Maltese Falcon. A 14-year-old guitar player who lives in the Boston area or who is visiting Boston with his parents can walk into the Hard Rock and see a genuine 1959 Les Paul in person, and they're not gonna get the chance to do that very often. When I was a kid, I wish I could have done that."
Of course, today's modern Hard Rock - a multimillion-dollar corporation that was purchased by the Seminole Tribe of Florida for $965 million in 2006 - doesn't come by these artifacts by accident. Nolan describes Hard Rock's origin as humble; before there was an actual Rock & Roll Hall of Fame location, artists would (and still do) donate to Hard Rock's collection "by default."
"We work directly with a lot of artists, whether they give us something, or we buy it, or, in a lot of cases, we will work out a donation/fundraising thing for their favorite charity," Nolan says. "And then, of course, there are the auctions. In the '80s, when the big auction houses started doing a lot of rock & roll memorabilia, for all intents and purposes, we bought 'em out. If you were a private collector in the '80s and you went to an auction and saw a guy from Hard Rock there, you'd get a sinking feeling. "
Most of the items in this MetroWest room are just spares. Hard Rock has teams of designers and database wranglers who strive to keep the material in each location fresh and aligned with local interests. With new cafés opening and older units being regularly remodeled, it's up to the folks working here to keep the good stuff moving through quickly.
"We have so much memorabilia - 72,000 to 73,000 pieces. And it's scattered all around the world. And literally, the collection has never all been in the same place at the same time ever," Nolan says.
However, one slice of the collection is currently amassing in this room. There's a space demarcated on one of the shelves in the office's back corner: "40th for Jeff." There rests a few items - Justin Bieber's skateboard, Buddy Holly's glasses, handwritten Bob Dylan lyrics - that have been set aside for an upcoming 40th Anniversary Tour beginning this month and stopping at Hard Rocks all over the country through mid-August. Hitting the road in a specially equipped tractor-trailer, the "museum on wheels" will present some of Hard Rock's best pieces, some of which were decided on in user-voted showdowns on the Hard Rock Memorabilia Facebook page.