An inside look at the entertainment memorabilia that’s part of Hard Rock Cafe’s success18 december 2014, 15:14
The new Hard Rock Cafe in Almaty has a stunning exterior. Photo courtesy of Hard Rock International.
In the 33 years since, the collection has grown to an astounding 77,000 items, most of which are displayed at Hard Rock’s 148 cafes, 21 hotels and 10 casinos. That makes it the largest and most valuable collection of rock items in the world.
All told, Hard Rock International has 193 venues – including merchandise stores – in 60 countries.
The latest beneficiary of the company’s memorabilia-collecting tradition is Almaty, where the newest Hard Rock Cafe just opened. Its initial collection includes jewelry worn by Rihanna, who has a strong fan base in Kazakhstan; a pair of Michael Jackson’s black loafers; a jacket worn by Elvis Presley; and a guitar played by Angus Young of AC/DC.
Antonio Bautista, a senior vice president at Hard Rock International, told me in a recent interview that more cafes will be coming to Kazakhstan. That should be exciting news for my friends in Astana, which would be a logical choice for a second location.
Senior Vice President Antonio Bautista can tell you what you want to know about Hard Rock International’s rock memorabilia. Photo courtesy of Hard Rock International.
Like Hard Rocks everywhere, the Almaty operation will refresh its memorabilia collection from time to time so clients will see tantalizing new items.
Hard Rocks display memorabilia from local celebrities as well as international ones, so Almaty cafe patrons will also be able to see mementoes from Kazakh and Russian stars.
In fact, here’s an offer to Oksana Vodneva, general manager of Almaty’s Hard Rock: If you’d like to have a memento from the Kazakh superstar Batyrkhan Shukenov, let me know. He’s a friend of mine.
Who knows – he might even be willing to lend you one of his hallmark saxophones.
Customers love the memorabilia. I’ve been to Hard Rocks around the world. The one in Tokyo’s Roppongi district where I was a regular was only a few minutes from my home.
My friends and I have oohed and aahed over memorabilia in the cafes, tried to remember when and where celebrities wore some of them, even argued about the circumstances under which they were worn. It’s great fun.
When I learned about the opening of the Hard Rock Cafe in Almaty, it gave me a chance to do something I’d always wanted to do: Ask Hard Rock management how the memorabilia collection started and how they’ve expanded and maintained it over the years.
Antonio, the Hard Rock International senior vice president, was happy to field my questions.
Before I tell you some of the fascinating things he said, let’s talk more about the Hard Rock in Almaty – because it’s a milestone in the city’s entertainment scene.
The three-story affair is in the heart of Almaty, on Seifullin Avenue between Amangeldy and Karasai Batyr Streets.
The first floor consists of a Rock Shop that sells the Hard Rock Cafe T-shirts you see everywhere and lots of other merchandise.
Rock T-shirts and other items are on sale on the first floor of the Hard Rock in Almaty. Photo courtesy of Hard Rock International.
The second floor features a big central bar and restaurant and a stage for live-music and DJ performances. Hard Rock performers typically include both local and international acts, and that will be the case at the Almaty cafe.
Memorabilia line the walls of the Almaty Hard Rock’s main lounge, which boasts a central bar and a stage for live performances. Photo courtesy of Hard Rock International.
The third floor of the Almaty Hard Rock is a more intimate dining and drinking setting, including a couple of VIP lounges.
Now back to the memorabilia.
The collection has become such a key part of the brand that the company devotes a full-time staff to it, Antonio said.
The staff “oversees all aspects of the Hard Rock collection – from research and initial procurement of an artifact to its cataloguing and maiden installation at a Hard Rock location,” he said. “The team researches, evaluates and hand-selects memorabilia” in a way that ensures “that all guests are provided with an authentic rock experience at each location.”
In choosing which items to display, Antonio said, staffers strive for “a mix of iconic and contemporary pieces” and “items that have local relevance or cultural significance for a particular location.”
Kazakhstan has long had a love affair with the Beatles – everyone knows about the statue of the Fab Four in the hills overlooking Almaty – so I hope the city’s Hard Rock Cafe displays Beatles items some day.
Most of the items in Hard Rock’s collection are on display at its locations around the world, but Hard Rock International has a memorabilia warehouse at its headquarters in Orlando, Florida, Antonio said. That facility is for storing and preparing items for display in Hard Rock venues.
Singer and song writer Bret Michaels donated one of his guitars as part of the Bret Michaels Day celebration at the Hard Rock Cafe in Pittsburgh. He grew up near the city. Photo courtesy of Hard Rock International.
Hard Rock gets its memorabilia from artist donations, private collections, auction-house purchases and other sources. Many of the acquisitions are rooted in the company’s “constant interaction with the public and the entertainment industry,” Antonio said.
Hard Rock decided long ago not to sell the items it collects, he said.
Pop singer Shakira donated these dresses to Hard Rock International in 2013 while she was on the set of the NBC television talent show “The Voice” in Hollywood. She was a judge in the program. Photo courtesy of Hard Rock International.
“Our memorabilia is legendary, so we occasionally get an admirer” who asks about purchasing some items, Antonio said. “However, our collection is priceless, and we wouldn’t dare part with these timeless pieces.” Because lots of folks would like to get their hands on these treasures, I asked Antonio if Hard Rock had developed a good security system to protect them. He didn’t go into detail – understandable, of course – but said it has.
Rihanna shows off a T-shirt in her name at the Hard Rock Cafe in Paris in June of 2014. Photo courtesy of Hard Rock International.
“Hard Rock’s memorabilia is very secure – both in its appearance on the wall and protection and security we have around it,” he said.
Rock fans are so passionate about Hard Rock’s memorabilia that the company created a website at www.memorabilia.hardrock.com to showcase it.
The recently updated site, known as Hard Rock Memorabilia 2.0, contains hundreds of items – but will soon contain thousands, Antonio said.
It will also be adding features, “such as text and photo commenting and the ability for visitors to create and share their own collections of items,” he said.
Sounds like a rock junkie’s dream.
I’ve always thought that Hard Rock, by the very nature of the pop culture it champions, would be a fun place to work.
So I asked Antonio about it.
“Absolutely,” he said. There are so many components to Hard Rock – food and beverage, memorabilia, merchandise and philanthropy – that it’s always exciting, he said.
In fact, “this is not really a job, it is a lifestyle choice,” he enthused. “I am first a fan of the brand and then an employee.”
The driving force behind the company’s success, Antonio said, is that “Hard Rock has the unique ability to emotionally connect with its constituency.”
I’m sure that’s going to be as true at the Hard Rock in Almaty as at all the rest of the company’s locations.