x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Hard Rock Cafe to keep on rolling

Campaigners cheer decision and hope that management will take steps to revitalise the restaurant and maintain its atmosphere.

The Hard Rock Cafe in Dubai faced an uncertain future when the property was bought in March.
The Hard Rock Cafe in Dubai faced an uncertain future when the property was bought in March.

DUBAI // Customers and management at Dubai's Hard Rock Cafe have pledged to restore the once legendary cafe to its former glory after it was saved from closure and feared demolition. The popular family venue was saved largely thanks to loyal customers outraged by the prospect of losing a part of Dubai's history. Some threatened to lie in the path of bulldozers if demolition began; others lobbied the media and set up a Facebook group, Save the Hard Rock Cafe, Dubai, that has so far drawn 9,000 members.

The future looked bleak for the building in March when it was revealed that the land on which it stands had been sold to property developer Tameer, which plans to build a luxury hotel on the site. Rumoured D-Day dates - Demolition Day, when the bulldozers would move in - were published on the website. But the owners have now confirmed that the cafe, which opened in December 1997 and was once the most profitable Hard Rock Cafe in the world, will stay open for at least another nine years until the lease is up.

However, supporters of the campaign to save the cafe fear it may still become rundown and forgotten, a shadow of its former self, because little has been done to maintain its atmosphere. Their concern is partly due to the cafe's loss of its liquor licence on July 1, which was followed by dwindling trade. But loyal customers are once again fighting back. Residents living near the cafe, on Sheikh Zayed Road near Dubai Media City, and patrons have vowed to ensure the establishment remains an integral part of the community and becomes a Dubai institution once again.

"It's absolutely great that it managed to stay open," said Sacha Narinx, the creator of the Facebook group and one of the more vocal supporters of the cafe. "We [supporters] definitely made a difference to the outcome but fewer people are going, they would rather go somewhere else. It's just not the same any more. "It used to be a whole experience, a social thing. People from all over would go, like the US military guys on leave."

Mr Narinx visits the cafe at least three times a week. "It is the kind of place that does not cost a fortune, and you can bring your family," he said, adding that there are few places like that in Dubai. Especially popular among expatriates, the Hard Rock Cafe was once a hub of loud music, American diner food and a lively, buzzing atmosphere that its supporters hope will return. It is well-known for its collection of rock 'n' roll memorabilia, for which the parent company paid a fortune to equip outlets around the world.

Signed jackets, guitars, lyrics, records and motorbikes adorn the walls from legendary artists such as The Beatles and Michael Jackson, as well as contemporary acts such as REM and Oasis. Daniel Hawkes, a regular cafe customer for four years, said: "The Hard Rock is such an important place for people to meet and chill. I know many people who started to go to other places now because the atmosphere just isn't the same anymore."

Many customers now in their 20s used to go to the cafe as children with their parents as a regular weekly treat. Rosemary-Clare Napper said: "I used to live next door to Hard Rock and I have spent so many happy times there. "It simply cannot ever be knocked down. It is against everything we stand for." John Hall, the restaurant's manager, said business had been more "challenging" of late but the owners were committed to keeping it running.

"We continue to have a great, loyal and passionate customer base here in the region," said Mr Hall. "Local support from our customers has been incredible and we thank them for their continued support." He said the hotel being built on the site would help enhance the Hard Rock's presence in the city. "We will return it to its former glory," Mr Narinx said. "It's such an amazing place to hang out. Hopefully after Ramadan, when the band comes back, it will pick up again and more people will go."

@email:nsamaha@thenational.ae