They called us rubes, hicks, acted like we just fell off the turnip truck. And we developed an attitude, didn't we, Baltimore? A bad attitude. Well, lose it, baby. We're big-time all the way now. Forget Camden Yards and the Science Center and the National Aquarium and all those fancy hotels that stretch like concrete monuments up to the sky.
I say this because -- ta-daa! -- we now have a Hard Rock Cafe of our very own. OK, it's the 77th Hard Rock Cafe to open worldwide, but still. It's opening today in the Power Plant at the Inner Harbor. And you know what that means, Baltimore.
Right. Pretty soon there'll be thousands of gum-chewing tourists all over the world with "Hard Rock Cafe Baltimore" T-shirts atop their Bermuda shorts, black socks and sandals.
If that doesn't give us a certain cachet, I don't know what does.
The truth is, though, this Hard Rock Cafe looks like a fun place to grab a burger and beer, and might just give the Inner Harbor the much-needed shot in the arm city officials are praying for.
To find out, I took a pre-opening tour of the place. After making my way toward the giant 68-foot neon guitar atop the Power Plant smokestacks and following the terrazzo Gibson Les Paul guitar into the lobby, my first thought was: Whoa! What do we have here?
I say this because dominating one wall of the lobby is a huge, garish wig once worn on stage by George Clinton of Parliament/Funkadelic. I don't know ... is a 3 1/2 -foot ball of hair really what you want to see right before tackling a club sandwich?
That aside, the place is marked by typical Hard Rock Cafe style and efficiency: the guitar-shaped bar, the trademark vintage Caddy hanging above, this one a powder-blue 1960 model with tailfins so sharp you could shave with them.
From the bar area, I began examining the rock memorabilia lining the walls, coming upon pictures of the Beatles and Rolling Stones, a trumpet played by Louis Armstrong, Jimmy Page's guitar, Elton John's silver platform shoes and a snapshot of -- there's no explaining this one -- the Monkees frolicking in a swimming pool.
To me, it was sort of like touring a Hall of Fame wing devoted to Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays and coming across a bust of Jeff Reboulet. Then again, the Hard Rock professes to embrace all forms of rock music, even artificial ones.
Either that or the decorator was having a bad day.
As luck would have it, a few minutes later I was introduced to Rita Gilligan, one of the shining planets in the Hard Rock galaxy.
Gilligan, a gregarious red-haired Irishwoman of 56, was one of the first waitresses hired by the original Hard Rock Cafe when it opened in London back in 1971. She said she got the job by answering an ad in the Evening Standard for "matronly waitresses" between 30 and 55 with "strong personalities."
Gilligan answered the ad in her understated style, firing off a note that read: "You better take me! I'm the best you're gonna get!"
Pretty soon she was waiting on the likes of Paul McCartney and Mick Jagger and Elton John, along with the usual assortment of wild-eyed hippies and tourists that haunted the joint. Now she travels the world for the chain as its "Cultural Attache," promoting the Hard Rock credo: "Love all, serve all. Take time to be kind."
L (Which may explain that business with the Monkees' picture.)
After leaving Gilligan, I ran into Peter Gilecky, the Hard Rock Cafe's affable general manager. Gilecky is 39, looks 29 and, despite his blond grad school looks, tends to speak in exclamation points!
I asked him to describe his emotions as opening day for his restaurant drew near.
"Oh, we're wildly excited!" he said excitedly. "We're gonna rock the Inner Harbor! We're gonna provide a dining experience that is unparalleled at this point!"
From there, I decided it was time to visit the hub of every Hard Rock Cafe, the great engine that powers all commerce here, namely, the merchandise shop.
This one features the usual Hard Rock Cafe T-shirts, sweat shirts, polo shirts, caps, jewelry, etc., but also some off-beat "specialty items" such as Zippo lighters, teddy bears, and golf balls.
The Zippo lighter seems pricey at $22, but only until you see the price tag on the official Hard Rock brown suede jacket: 185 bucks.
From there it was back to browsing the rock memorabilia.
As legend has it, the Hard Rock Cafe first started putting memorabilia on its walls after Eric Clapton donated a guitar to the owners of the original restaurant in London.
Not long after, Pete Townsend of the Who sent a guitar along with a note that said: "Mine's as good as his!" So they put that one on the wall, too.
Anyway, one thing led to another and pretty soon the Hard Rock chain had assembled the largest collection of rock 'n' roll memorabilia in the world, now about 40,000 objects.
(A call to the Rock + Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland revealed it has just 10,000 items in its collection. Which would make it the junior varsity compared to the Hard Rock collection.)