Hard Rock Cafe -- the granddaddy of theme restaurants that '' proved it's not only rock 'n' roll but burgers, fries and T-shirts too -- will open here this summer as the Power Plant's first tenant in seven years.
The Orlando, Fla.-based chain is to celebrate its grand opening June 28 with a free outdoor concert on the harbor and a new permanent fixture atop the complex's center building -- a 65-foot-tall lighted likeness of a Gibson Les Paul guitar.
Inside, a Cadillac suspended from the ceiling will rotate above a bar in the center of a restaurant seating about 300. A stained-glass wall will depict rock legends. National and regional rock and blues acts will perform regularly on a raised stage.
The debut of the $25 million Power Plant project, to be announced this morning at the mayor's weekly news conference, represents a significant milestone for its developer, David Cordish.
In the past three decades, the native Baltimorean's company has developed a nationwide reputation for turning failed projects into successes. But this marks his first project in his hometown.
Unfazed by the demise of Six Flags Corp.'s two ventures in the Power Plant, on Pier 4 at the Inner Harbor, Cordish said he thrives on resurrecting lifeless failures. He pointed to Hard Rock and a Barnes & Noble superstore, the other definite tenant among nine or 10 that will occupy the Power Plant in the coming year, as proof that he's delivering on his promise.
"If we say we are going to do something, you can bank on it," Cordish said. With the addition of other tenants "equally as spectacular as the first two," he added, "the Power Plant will be the premier entertainment venue in the region."
For Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who saw Six Flags abandon its Victorian fun house in 1990 and entertainment complexes fail at the Brokerage and Fishmarket on Market Place, the planned redevelopment of all three provides reason for jubilation.
With an internationally recognized theme restaurant and the world's biggest bookseller heading downtown, the mayor quipped, "Baltimore is now the city that reads and rocks, too."
The restaurant, on the ground level of the southernmost of the turn-of-the-century plant's three buildings (the one farthest from Pratt Street), will feature windows overlooking the harbor, hardwood floors, polished brass fixtures and a jukebox with a state-of-the-art sound system and multiple video screens.
And, of course, total immersion in everything rock 'n' roll -- signed guitars, gold records, hand-written letters and lyrics, superstar stage-wear.
The cafe also will include a room for private functions; full restaurant service and entertainment in warmer months on a barge docked outside; and a shop brimming with T-shirts, hats, jackets and other paraphernalia bearing the insignia "Hard Rock Cafe -- Baltimore."
Like the downtown it's moving into, Hard Rock is trying to recapture its glory days. While Baltimore strives to regain its faded reputation as a pioneer in redeveloping downtowns, Hard Rock, too, hopes to regain its edge against tough competition like the Planet Hollywood and House of Blues chains.
Since the start of this year, Hard Rock, which owns 76 restaurants worldwide, has announced plans for a TV show on the cable station VH-1, a record label, regular live music at its restaurants and plans to open in 14 new cities in the coming year.
The subsidiary of U.K.-based Rank Group PLC bought back 11 '' Canadian franchises in December for $61 million. That followed its $410 million repurchase of Hard Rocks in the western United States.
"We're clearly refocusing the whole company," said Jim Berk, the 37-year-old who took over as Hard Rock's president and chief executive a year ago. "We really want to maintain all the integrity and credibility that has been part of Cafe since it started but also put more focus on real energy."
The glitz and strategic plans notwithstanding, the chain that has never closed a restaurant relies on a very basic recipe for success, Berk said: "What it all comes down to is very simple business. It's about hot hamburgers, cold beer and great music. If we can't deliver that, then we shouldn't be in the business."
Revival of the turn-of-the-century Power Plant could be one of the most visible symbols of recovery for a downtown that struggled for years against a recession.
The grand opening of the Hard Rock and the other Power Plant tenants to follow will provide key focal points of what's dubbed downtown's "second renaissance." All told, more than a half-billion dollars' worth of attractions will fan out from the Inner Harbor within the next two years.
Pub Date: 3/13/97