“I will get a Hard Rock Café shirt from EVERY location!”
~The Saddest World Traveler in the World
Hard Rock Café is a music theme restaurant chain founded in London by two Americans, which was then purchased by the Seminole Tribe of Florida in 2007 and is currently headquartered in Orlando, Florida. It’s a relatively friendly and tourist-dominated place that you’ve very probably visited at some point in your life, though if you said you could remember what kind of food they had there you’d be lying. It’s known for having a shitload of music memorabilia (all together, they’re responsible for the largest collection of that in the world) and for the fact that old people seem to love to buy shirts to show what cities with a Hard Rock they’ve been to.
We think that Hard Rock Café is fascinating, but not for the reasons you’d suspect. Tricking people into overpaying for decent generic food through gimmicks is, while extremely American, not something that we find particularly novel or new. We’ve all eaten at a TGI Fridays, after all. No, the fascinating part of Hard Rock is that, though it was founded in England, it’s really an American export that’s happened to establish locations in a frankly surprising number of countries. No, seriously, there are 191 Hard Rock locations (if you include hotels and casinos) in over 59 countries. That’s insane! So, we figured we should go through the list of locations and tell you about some of the weirdest one, because we know that when you go to exotic and strange locations, you really want to sit down and eat a whatever the fuck Hard Rock sells while looking at a guitar Elvis played for a few weeks during some practice session in 1962.
The Most Surprising Hard Rock Café Locations in the World
The Hard Rock Café didn’t open a location in America until 1982, when the Los Angeles location opened (that Hard Rock closed in 2006). Since that point, however, it’s become an American tourism trademark, even though every single United States location opened before 1990 except for Chicago’s has since closed. But the chain itself is huge—when it was purchased by the Seminoles in 2007 (which, be honest, totally threw you for a loop when you read it for the first time up there) it went for a shade under one billion dollars. Granted, that includes casinos, which are bigger money makers than “kitsch restaurants where people like to buy shirts” but it’s still an impressive figure.
But the most impressive aspect of the business to us is the way it’s managed to set up shop around the world, meaning that you, the adventurous traveler with a depressing philosophy on what kind of restaurants you like to visit on vacation, can get a Hard Rock Café sweatshirt or a fucking motor jacket from such exotic locations as…
Hard Rock Café Angkor (Cambodia)
Located in Siem Reap, which is a popular resort town that serves as a gateway to the historic Angkor region, the Hard Rock Café Angkor boasts a hearty 4 out of 5 rating on tripadvisor.com, proving once and for all that there are fewer combinations of words in the English language sadder than a Swedish tourist saying, “I have visited twelve HRC around the world and this was the best so far!” Siem Reap itself was settled in 802 but never became an official city until 1907, which largely explains its existence as a destination that caters almost entirely to tourism.
If we think about it logically, there’s nothing wrong with this location—when the top rated restaurant in a particular city is a coffee shop and the third highest rated is one of those restaurant training programs where you’re eating something made by culinary students, it’s not really that defeatist to sit down at a Hard Rock because you just want to eat an okay burger, even if “it’s expensive, but what do you expect at a Hard Rock Café?” Still, Cambodia seems an awfully long way to eat at a place that’s main selling point is how many guitars they’ve bought during their existence. However, at least you’re in a place where it’s an acceptable food option. We can’t really understand the mindset of people who would go to…
Hard Rock Café Paris (France)
Okay, listen, we’ll hate on France as much as the next site whose whole shtick involves being so aggressively American that people fail to pick up on satire and get mad when we insult their favorite foreign grocery chain, but if there’s one thing the French are famous for it’s being cowards. No, wait, we meant to say, if there’s one thing the French are famous for its being unbearably pretentious assholes to anyone with an outsider status. No, fuck, okay, French people are known for being good at cooking and shit. There are actually three Hard Rock Cafés located in France (including one in Nice and another in Marseille) but we’re going to focus on Paris since when you’re calling yourself “The Food Capital of the World” you should really take a moment to question why would bother to go to your Hard Rock Café when there are, as of 2015, nine restaurants that were awarded Three Michelin Stars, which means that the food is good enough to justify a vacation just to eat there.
It has 4 out of 5 stars on tripadvisor and over one thousand reviews, and if we start crying for no reason all the time after posting this article you now know the reason why. A thousand people. Went to Paris. And decided to eat at Hard Rock. And then said things like, “Good place for American food” while adding “It is food that reminds us of home, my wife is American, and it is a bit of a treat.” How? What? No. There is not a single actual American who views Hard Rock Café as the embodiment of American eateries. No. God, we’re so mad right now, this article was a horrible idea.
Hard Rock Café Bahrain (Bahrain)
Okay, at this point, we’re starting to think that every single place on tripadvisor gets a 4 star rating, because this is kind of absurd. We’re not actively annoyed that this archipelago has a Hard Rock Café, we’re just like, you know, why? Not even from a Bahrain standpoint, we’re trying to figure out how this makes sense for Hard Rock Café. They were like, yes, let’s set up camp in a very small Middle Eastern island nation, and set it in the capital city of Manama which has a population of 157,000. That’s smaller than Aurora, Illinois, and if you tried to put a Hard Rock Café in Aurora they’d probably say, “Well, there’s one in Chicago already, and we can just go to that one, maybe you could find a better example of a city that’s bigger than Manama that’d be ridiculous to put a Hard Rock in because there are literally hundreds of cities that meet that criteria in America.”
Either way, just, an odd choice here.
Hard Rock Café Gothenburg (Sweden)
What is the process for establishing a Hard Rock Café? We’re actively curious. There are about 150 Hard Rock Café locations out there, so we’re wondering what person in 2004 sat down and thought, “You know what needs a Hard Rock Café? The second largest city in Sweden!” and boom, Gothenburg opens up a small location that manages to fail the tripadvisor standard, because it’s only 3.5 stars good apparently. Now, you should be honest with yourselves, America, what percentage of you didn’t even know Gothenburg was a city? Your mind totally drifted to Batman when you read that header, didn’t it? We’d be surprised if 20% of you knew Gothenburg independently, but that’s because this is America and Americans are only allowed to know the name of more than one city in a country a finite amount of times before they begin forgetting state capitals (ha ha, who are we kidding, you don’t know most of those either).
Stockholm has a Hard Rock Café too, but we’re less surprised that Sweden has a Hard Rock, and more that it has two Hard Rocks. Does Sweden need two Hard Rock Cafés? No, like, that’s a question we can almost guarantee was never asked by anyone at the corporate headquarters of Hard Rock Café. Gothenburg has a metro population of roughly 500,000 people, by the way, meaning it would be the 33rd largest city in the United States if it were picked up and placed in the middle of Wyoming (we figure they have space to spare). And you don’t see Oklahoma City or Milwaukee clamoring for their Hard Rock Cafés, now do you? What a strange, strange franchise.
Hard Rock Café Saipan (Northern Mariana Islands)
You might not be aware that America has two actual Commonwealths to its name—sure, you know Puerto Rico, but off in the Pacific Ocean we have the Northern Mariana Islands who also occupy that status. We basically won it from the Japanese during World War II in a game of poker (or, you know, bloody battle, same difference) and when it tried and failed to integrate with neighboring (we use that term loosely, we mean, it’s just a bunch of islands loosely grouped together under arbitrary national identities) islands they decided to become first a United States territory, and then a Commonwealth. The Northern Mariana Islands consist of fifteen islands, spread out over 180 square miles, only three of which are inhabited. The population as of 2010 for the entire island chain was 53,833. Of that, 48,000 live in Saipan, it’s capital.
48,000 people live on this island, and that’s enough of a demand to warrant a Hard Rock Café location. But hey! FOUR OUT OF FIVE STARS ON TRIPADVISOR! It’s good enough to rank as the 17th best restaurant on the island…which has, in total, 74 to choose from. What’s this really doing here, though? Sure, tourism is a main economic industry for the island, but it’s not like they get a shitload of them (a handful of major airlines straight up got rid of their regular service to the island). But this Hard Rock Café, which has been continuously open since 1998, has an existence that sort of defies logic. Who even suggested this location in the first place? Was this some Trading Places like dare where two old rich white people (remember, the Seminole tribe didn’t take over until 2007) in charge of things bet a dollar on whether they could establish a permanent location on America’s most sparsely populated Commonwealth? Well congratulations, Mortimer Duke, you get your dollar.
We’re not even saying this is a bad place to eat if you want a familiar meal while out in the Mariana Islands, we’re just saying that a high percentage of you than you feel comfortable admitting haven’t even heard of this island group, much less have plans to visit it at any point in the near future. But hey, if you do, and you want to grab some burgers while looking at some blown of photographs of famous musicians during concerts while saying, “Huh, not a lot of memorabilia made it out here, okay” then by all means, you have our blessing.
But by far, the most jarring location of the Hard Rock Café we’ve been able to find was…
Hard Rock Café Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam)
You’ve finally done it, America. You’ve finally won the Vietnam War. Not only have we brought Hard Rock Café all the way into Ho Chi Minh City, but it’s 4-star (fucking seriously!?) review on Tripadvisor ranks it 189 out of 1,597 in the city, good enough for a Certificate of Excellence, which is even more depressing when you realize that Vietnam as a nation is sort of renowned for its cuisine. But also, it’s a Hard Rock Café in Communist Vietnam. That’s strange, right? Unexpected?
It opened in 2009, though the rights are owned by the Highlands Coffee conglomerate, which as far as we can tell is basically Vietnam’s equivalent to Starbucks, which, um, doesn’t make this any less weird. Basically, this is just a franchised version of the Hard Rock Café, so it doesn’t have the same standards or requirements as corporate locations, which still doesn’t explain why someone wanted to pay to use the Hard Rock Café name in Vietnam. Now, this might be us being uninformed Americans, typically self-centered and self-focused and ignorant of the world at large around us, but we’re pretty sure they’re not allowed to listen to music in Vietnam, so we’re surprised they’d try to build around a music-themed restaurant.
Oh, come on, it’s totally reasonable for us to think that the Vietnamese people are forbidden to listen to music, or dance for that matter. That’s how communism works, doesn’t it? Oh whatever. Anyway, there’s a Hard Rock Café in Vietnam, and we’ll never be used to that. That said, we’d totally ironically rock a Ho Chi Minh Hard Rock shirt. Actually the more we think of it, the more we want it. So, uh, hey, if anyone goes to Vietnam, think you could stop by and get us a shirt from there? We’re sort of building a Hard Rock Merchandise collection, so we have to go to everyone we see in another city or countr…oh those brilliant sons of bitches, we just figured out their business model. Those goddamn genius sons of bitches.
Well played, Hard Rock. Well played.