Makeover for Hard Rock Cafe

Nightlife institution in Orchard will have a major revamp next year to mark its 25th anniversary

While the two-storey Hard Rock Cafe in Cuscaden Road can hold 250 people, there were nights in the 1990s that it saw about 1,000 people in lines that snaked around the building.

General manager Mark Chan, who started out as a floor manager shortly after the restaurant opened in February 1990, but now heads its Sentosa outlet - recalls how "people would do or say anything just to get in".

Friday and Saturday nights, in particular, saw sell-out crowds who were there to see popular house band Jive Talkin' play covers. "You could pay a $20 cover charge, get a housepour and stay there the whole night," Mr Chan, 56, recalls.

With its name up in lights like on the Vegas strip and the iconic purple Chevy perched over the front entrance, Hard Rock Cafe has been a nightlife institution in the Orchard Road area for 25 years.

The likes of performers such as British rock legends Def Leppard and American rockers Third Eye Blind have played there, while Eric Clapton, Steve Vai and Blondie have dined there.

To celebrate its 25th anniversary, the Hard Rock Cafe will undergo a facelift that, according to Hotel Properties Limited, owner of the Singapore franchise, will feature a "sleek and contemporary design". It is due to close in May next year for renovations from June to September.

The Cuscaden Road outlet was the first themed restaurant to open in South-east Asia and the flagship outlet of all of Hard Rock's 11 Asian outlets. In the past six years, two other outlets opened in Singapore - at Changi Airport Terminal 3 and Resorts World Sentosa.

The original outlet has lost some of its shine, as the Hard Rock franchise has taken a beating worldwide with falling revenues.

Some of its performers think it is time for a change too.

Comedian Kumar, 47, who has been doing his stand-up set there for 16 years, jokes that they should be singing country songs, judging by how old the place looks.

Raffy Aspier, 59, leader of Jive Talkin', says the place is where his band, also 25 years old, started in 1991 and became successful.

The band, who played there for about a decade, used to play six nights a week in their heyday. While they played at other venues for almost 14 years, they returned in July this year and now play there every Friday and Saturday night.

Aspier explains why the regulars keep coming back: "It's a party place, a family place and is everything in one with great bands, great food and great music."

As part of its eventual closure, some iconic items will be auctioned off for charity, including the Chevy and the three stained-glass panels on the stage. The panels are the oldest items in the restaurant, having been there since day one. Each features a rock 'n' roll icon - Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry.

Mr Duncan Craig, HRC Holding's executive vice-president, says: "Many of what would be considered the classic components will change."There will also be Asian music memorabilia and "a lot more Asian content on the music and video system" after the facelift.

But the heart of Hard Rock Cafe are its staff and regulars. Many of the employees have been there for over a decade. Ms Fairus Hakim, 42, who started as a cashier in 1998 and now supervises servers at the Changi Airport outlet, has seen children of the regulars grow up.

Regulars such as Ms Joyce Tan, a deputy director at Thomson Medical Group who is in her 40s, has been going there since 1993. She met her husband, who was a manager there, at Hard Rock Cafe and they got married there in 2000.

She is all for the revamp, but hopes the spirit of the place will not be lost. "The environment may be recognised worldwide, but what makes it different for regulars is the people who work there."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 04, 2015, with the headline 'Makeover for Hard Rock Cafe'. Print Edition | Subscribe