The Hard Rock Café—a Las Vegas icon at the entrance to the Hard Rock Hotel at the corner of Paradise Road and Harmon for nearly 30 years—entered the final phase of its existence this week as crews began the process of demolishing it. News cameras and reporters joined visitors and tourists on the sidewalks to watch the demolition. The Café has been closed since December 2016.
“It’s definitely the end of an era,” one tourist told reporters covering the beginning phase of the demolition.
But is it? Perhaps from one perspective, it is. Las Vegas has always been iconic and a bit quirky with its architecture, and the original Hard Rock Café Las Vegas—with its Googie-inspired arched roof—was no exception.
But there’s still a Hard Rock Café in Sin City. In 2009, the Hard Rock opened a flashier, glass-clad, three-story Hard Rock Café a few blocks away on Las Vegas Boulevard—on the Strip, in other words.
The removal of the older Hard Rock Café is one of the more obvious signs that the Hard Rock Hotel will soon become Virgin Hotels Las Vegas, which is just one of everything-tycoon Richard Branson’s many business forays into Las Vegas. We reported on another of his ambitious projects—a high-speed train from Las Vegas to Los Angeles—back in October.
And the 84-foot-high guitar that attracted visitors to the Hard Rock Café. What became of that? It was actually removed from the old Hard Rock Café in 2017 and after months of renovation and repair was transplanted to the Las Vegas Neon Museum in early 2019. The sign—a huge neon guitar modeled after the Gibson Les Paul electric guitar favored by many rock musicians—was a welcome addition to the Neon Museum’s collection of Las Vegas icons such as Vegas Vic and the Stardust sign.
Incidentally, the Hard Rock Hotel also has a huge neon guitar to attract attention, but it’s not a Gibson Les Paul; it’s a rendition of a Fender Stratocaster, another iconic guitar fancied by amateurs and professionals alike. It was famously “destroyed” in the Nicholas Cage movie Con Air. Lucky for rock historians, it was all done with models and other special effects wizardry.
No word on what will happen to the Hotel’s neon Stratocaster once renovations begin changing the Hard Rock Hotel into Virgin Hotels Las Vegas.
Some reports jokingly claim that the Stratocaster will be replaced by a giant “V,” but artist renderings of the entrance to the hotel, available at the hotel’s website, show a stylish but less extravagant stone marquee with an understated “Virgin Hotels” etched into the stone.
While Virgin purchased the Hard Rock Hotel in 2018, it will not begin the actual renovations until February 3, 2020, when the doors to the Hard Rock Hotel will close and the makeover to convert it to Virgin Hotels Las Vegas will begin. The renovations are expected to conclude in less than a year—an ambitious schedule, considering the amount of manpower and material involved.
Virgin Hotels originally planned to do a partial closing of the Hard Rock for the first four months of renovation, followed by a complete closing for the remaining four months. Richard Bosworth—President and CEO of JC Hospitality, the company partnered with Virgin and charged with overseeing the renovations—told reporters recently that remaining partially open for the first four months “was not efficient from a construction process nor could we provide a hospitality service experience our guests deserve.”
While the hotel’s three towers will remain standing, major changes both inside and out will convert the buildings and the surrounding property into a sleek hotel with 1504 “chambers, grand chambers and Penthouse suites,” all outfitted with in-room technology and Virgin Hotels’ ergonomically-designed (and patented) beds.
Additionally, the hotel will have a completely renovated 60,000 square foot casino and 130,000 square feet of meeting and convention space. Topping that off is five acres of redesigned outdoor space and pools.
When the new resort-hotel opens in November 2020, the renovations and landscaping will have cost Virgin a reported $200 million.
While the new hotel will be home to many new restaurants, bars, and nightclubs, there will be several significant hold-overs from the Hard Rock days, including MB Steak, Pizza Forte, and Nobu, which will nearly double the size of its bar under the new Virgin regime.
Some new additions to dining and nightlife include a Commons Club lounge and restaurant, and—according to reports—something called “the Funny Library Coffee Shop,” which is actually already a thing at Virgin Hotels San Francisco.
Described as “a communal work space,” the shop will serve coffee from Hugh Jackman’s Laughing Man coffee company and feature plenty of space for laptops, along with shelves filled with interesting books like Hunter Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and an odd take on art history called Where’s Warhol? by Catherine Ingram and Andrew Rae.