Joe Cocker’s death left a hole. It was another one of the legends gone; another jigsaw piece of my life experience which had fallen off the table.
I’m not a ‘cult’ sort of person, but the legends of rock and roll hold significant meaning to me. Many of them are attached to life experiences and people: friends who attended concerts with me and little incidents, times and music marked by particular songs.
So, I become a disciple when I climb the stairs to their temple: the Hard Rock Café.
It’s been over forty years since the first Hard Rock Café opened, and thirty-five since legendary musician Eric Clapton donated a guitar for restaurant owners Isaac Tigrett and Peter Morton to mark his dining spot, but 70,000 guitars later the café itself has become a part of rock and roll history. There’s a lot of mileage and countries between the redneck Tennessee of Tigrett’s homeland and the business’ present day philosophy.
The restaurant is situated in Jim Cavill’s former Surfers Paradise Hotel. It was the first hotel in the suburb formerly been known as ‘Elston’. Once the ‘Birdwatcher’s Bar’, the outside verandah remains, serving the same purpose, I’m sure! The inner restaurant revolves around a central circular bar, its wait staff jiving and pouring beneath a huge globe and the motto: “Love all, Serve all”. Everyone is welcome, irrespective of age, sex or race. There’s a caring, sharing attitude here, with a part of the downstairs shop’s profit going to charity, an altruistic streak practised by founder Tigrett.
Love and service it may be, but there’s a hell of a good time going on at the top of the stairs. It’s party central, with groups of friends and families of all ages buzzing with the music; even some solo diners. Let’s face it, no one could feel alone in such an upbeat place!
It’s also rock and roll heaven up here, a bit of Memphis in a museum, the walls plastered with memorabilia of all sorts: framed rock star jackets, guitars, photos, art works and more – a treasure haven demanding to be explored. Huge screens face outwards from the bar so the fans can watch the greats perform. I draw my eyes away from Jimi Hendrix long enough to check out the menu.
We begin with the Jumbo Combo platter, best shared as an entrée between three or four people! It contains a Warm spinach and artichoke dip rarely seen here, bruschetta, onion rings, southwest skins and Rockin’ wings, one of the café’s signature dishes, made the same in every Hard Rock Café worldwide. Smoked in house, they’re smothered in Hickory BBQ sauce, the finger licking, chin dribbling glaze on many dishes.
It’s a smoking hot start to the meal, but not as hot as the action in the kitchen, orders yelled out and dishes lining up on the counter to go. Open this summer from breakfast, lunch, Happy Hour (4pm – 6pm) and dinner until late, the floor’s abuzz with hundreds of covers. It’s a frenetic hands-on experience for staff, who race past with meals for their assigned tables.
We’d been introduced to our waitress ‘Claire Bear’ on entering the restaurant, and, after seating us at Slash’s table, she pops back consistently to see how we’re doing. Like many of the wait staff, she’s necked with a bevy of cool pins; restaurant collectibles which many of the staff wear. Friendly and bright, zany and edgy, she’s one of a troop overseen by Operations Manager Steve Walkinshaw, who’s holding together the edges of this pumping floor.
Taylor’s on the bar tonight. This is a blue hair week, her colours changing as she follows the rainbow. Mocktails for the kids, cocktails for the grown-ups, the top shelf are keepers – you can take the glass home! Drinks of many colours exit the bar and dance cross the floor. Everyone’s happy. It’s that kind of place!
Even though there are salads and burgers on the menu, meat is definitely the main event, a paleo heaven full of rich flavours achieved through slow cooking and the best sauces.
We’re downing a Red Berry Press (a coffee plunger filled with house-made lemonade, orange vodka and fresh lemons and berries) when our shared main arrives.
It’s a Trio Combo of Hickory-smoked ribs which fall apart at a touch; BBQ Brisket, rich and gamey after roasting for 14 hours; and Pulled Pork (hickory marinated then slow cooked for 18 hours, hand pulled off the bone) with chips and coleslaw as sides! Be warned: this American-sized platter would be suitable to end a day in the surf (or large enough to serve a family)!
As if we haven’t eaten enough, an Oreo cheesecake appears, glorious in all its decadence. One bite and we know she’s worth taking home – a treat to be devoured later!
Somehow we find our way down the stairs, but not without a stop in the Hard Rock shop to collect my first guitar badge. It’s for you, Joe. You are so beautiful! Thanks for the memories!
Cnr Cavill Ave & Surfers Paradise Boulevard, Surfers Paradise Ph: 07 5539 9377
Open: Mon – Sun 8am – 11pm
NOTE: This review has also been published on Blank Gold Coast.