Many of us over a certain age have been to — perhaps even gotten the t-shirt from — a Hard Rock Cafe. This iconic brand of restaurants, casinos and hotels has, since its inception in 1971 expanded to all corners of the globe, having sold hundreds upon hundreds of franchises. The enduring brand began as a rock and roll bar serving all American comfort food in London’s Piccadilly. One of its first and regular customers was Eric Clapton, who, tired of standing in line to get seated at his favorite table, donated a signed guitar to the restaurant to hang over his seat so that it would always be available to him. Other stars followed suit, and over the years Hard Rock Cafe has collected nearly 80,000 rock and roll memorabilia, making its collection in ‘The Vault’, as well as amongst the diaspora of its franchises, the largest private collection of rock and world memorabilia in the world.
As rock and roll has been replaced by more popular genres of music over the years, it has become an almost nostalgic brand from a bygone era. Its famous burgers and smoked ribs, its framed and eclectic, if not eccentric, collection from the faded past seemingly out of step with the fast-paced millennial generation.
However, over the past year or so there has been a revival in the brand due to its efforts in courting the millennials, as well as in its expansion in Asia, specifically in China.
And while here in Chiang Mai we have had our own version of Hard Rock Cafe, in the rather naughty and now defunct, Rock Hard Cafe on Loi Kroh Road, as well as some other even less salubrious faux Hard Rocks coming and going over the years, we will be able to get our very own legit Hard Rock Cafe t-shirt this month with the opening of the spanking new Hard Rock Cafe in the Night Bazaar.
“We knew that we wanted to invest in Chiang Mai, and we also wanted to expand our brand collection,” said Prab Thakral, the erudite CEO and founder of Boutique Group of Companies, developer of high quality mid-market hospitality serviced apartments and hotels and further retail/commercial properties, whose business has expanded rapidly in Bangkok, Pattaya, Phuket and now Chiang Mai since its formation in 2004.
“I really love Chiang Mai and after doing our due diligence, realised that this is the time to invest,” he continued. “But I wouldn’t have done so if we didn’t have the right property. Fortunately this piece opposite Le Meridien in the Night Bazaar came up on the market and I snapped it up. There are 2,900 hotel rooms in this area and the foot traffic is at around 10,000 each weekend night during the high season. It’s not Asoke, but it is very respectable.”
Prab has also bought the piece of land that is currently on Huay Kaew Road (just a few hundred metres from the shopping complex Maya), a property he intends to develop into a hotel. “Our group’s forte has been in property development, but I have recently expanded into food and beverage,” he explained of his franchising of a famous Japanese sanuki udon brand Marugame Seimen, which currently has approximately 30 branches all over Bangkok. “But the Chiang Mai Hard Rock is personally really exciting to me. I am getting heavily involved in this project and it is unleashing my creativity.”
“Although we are not a so called flagship venue or a Casino, Hard Rock understood that Chiang Mai deserved prime memorabilia,” he said. “I impressed upon them the long relationship Thailand has had with American rock and roll, especially the influence from the Vietnam War era, and the long and deep relationship the US Consulate General and American expatriates have had with Chiang Mai, and I think that you will be impressed with what we have received from ‘The Vault’. Sure, we will have the classics, like Eric Clapton’s guitar, signed items from Jon Bon Jovi, Prince and other legends, but we are also hoping to attract the millennials too, and have requested items accordingly.”
This September, Singapore’s 25 year old Hard Rock Cafe launched its rejuvenated and refreshed new look, focusing on featuring local bands and showing off a new collection of memorabilia which includes some decidedly unrock-like items such as framed images of EDM DJs and other newer genres of music. Prab too is aware of the need to shift to attract this demographic.
“In Hard Rock Cafe, we love all serve all, however we identified our main market to still be around 28-45,” he continued, “and we will be featuring collected items from Justin Timberlake, Beyoncé, Lady Gaga alongside the old classics, to attract this group. We will be serving all the iconic Hard Rock Cafe dishes on our menu — great juicy burgers and the best of American soul food, but we will slowly be developing dishes to suit the Asian palate and incorporating local dishes into the menu. Our three storied building also comes with a garden where you can come and sit outdoors and sip a beer, whiling away the day with some friends. The low-ceilinged ground floor will have a floating stage and we are hoping to feature many local and foreign bands, offering them an opportunity to perform in a beautiful, warm and welcoming setting.”
“I have put a lot of time into this project and have made sure that we have included Chiang Mai design features and tones into our design. There will be a huge bar made from a single piece of locally-sourced wood and the fabrics will be modern and locally inspired. You can park easily at The Pavilion and come by for an after work drink or to celebrate your special occasions. I hear people say that Chiang Mai is a low-spending city, but after a lot of research I am not sure I agree with that. I think that Chiang Mai people are socially very active and are always looking for something to do. I look forward very much to getting to know this city better and becoming a part of it.”
Hard Rock Cafe will have opened by the time you read this story, so to get a brush with fame, a bite of burger, a night of rock and roll or a real Hard Rock Cafe Chiang Mai t-shirt to add to your collection, grab a few mates and mosey on down.