Not one Elvis jumpsuit hung on the walls, and not a single celebrity was playing bartender when young American entrepreneurs Peter Morton and Isaac Tigrett opened a noisy expat juke joint called the Hard Rock Cafe in London on June 14, 1971. It may be hard to imagine now, but the restaurant was initially most famous for its food. ”I couldn’t find a decent hamburger in London,” Morton explained at the time, ”and so I decided to do something about it.”
Beef has long since seemed beside the point. Credit Eric Clapton for instigating the concept that prefigured all the Planet Hollywoods and Fashion Cafes of the world: Slow Hand gave the budding London restaurateurs a guitar, as a lark. Shortly thereafter Pete Townshend asked that one of his own undemolished axes be put up next to Clapton’s, along with a note reading ”Mine’s as good as his!” More celebrity wall clutter soon followed, begetting the first ”Smithsonian of rock & roll” (to borrow PEOPLE’s phrase) — not to mention the age of instant pop nostalgia.
The wild success of the London original prompted Morton and Tigrett to expand. In fact, it was the L.A. and New York branches, opened in ’82 and ’84, that made the Hard Rock logo internationally ubiquitous. Eventually the cafes — now at 58 and counting — became home to about 30,000 artifacts, with pieces ranging from John Lennon’s handwritten ”Imagine” lyrics to Madonna’s first pointed bustier.
Meanwhile, Morton and Tigrett became the Lennon and McCartney of theme-restaurant owners, with all the tension that analogy suggests. In 1985, the irreconcilable cofounders divvied up the cafes, and in 1988 Tigrett sold his shares, taking along his investing buddy Dan Aykroyd to start the House of Blues chain. This month, Britain’s Rank Organization acquired Morton’s shares, having already bought the half formerly owned by Tigrett.
Among tourists, the myth remains that stars actually dine at the Hard Rock, but stargazers are far more likely to spot a luminary at Mortons, the tonier industry hangout Morton operates in West Hollywood. Nevertheless, crowds line up down the block at the Hard Rocks, where populist prices ensure that any hungry Joe need not reach much higher than the nearest ketchup bottle to touch the stars…or at least the castoffs from their closets.
Time Capsule: June 14, 1971
Neil Simon’s Plaza Suite was booked solid; Marcus Welby, M.D. continued its healthy TV run; readers warmed up to Irving Stone’s The Passions of the Mind; and the Honey Cone had a sweet hit single with ”Want Ads.”