Paradise Tower, Hard Rock Suite
“The diarrhea is good material.”
This is what I told myself as I skipped quickly to the toilet of the poorly engineered bathroom of room 30307, inside the Paradise Tower of Las Vegas’ Hard Rock Hotel & Casino.
Exactly ONE bite into my $42 (I have the receipt) order of room service mini-cheeseburgers, I was jettisoned bathroomward in red-faced, intestine-festering fury.
Shaking in rage and sweating from dysentary, I stumbled to the bedside phone, ready to smash the “Room Service” speed dial button, give them a piece of my mind, and demand a refund for my $847 dollar e.coli patties. Almost as quickly as the toxins living within the discount meat had alerted my bowels to release their contents, I released the certainly semen-covered handset of the in-room phone. It hit me with a sobering “thwap”. My Libra self would not be able to justify requesting a refund, seeing how they had warned me in advance.
Said it right there on the menu… “sliders”.
“Everything’s going to shit in this place, lately.”
I was a deranged old man in underpants, shouting, fist to the sky, alone in a cold hotel room.
September 2019. The sprawling, 16 acre, semi-symmetrical 1503 room hotel, two long blocks off the Vegas Strip, is currently operating in a sort of “lame duck” state, ever since its owner, steakhouse heir Peter Morton, announced, in April of 2018, the property’s sale to Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group.
Astronaut billionaire Branson’s ever-visionary, London-based conglomerate holds, and has-held, stakes in entities including an airline, a space airline, a burner cell phone division, a vineyard, and the Sex Pistols. Other than its Virgin Casino online gambling sites, The Virgin Group is currently, well, virgins, when it comes to brick and mortar casino properties.
The Las Vegas Hard Rock Hotel & Casino’s 1995 gala opening was attended by a galaxy of stars including Halle Berry, David Justice, David Spade, Jim Belushi, Jack Nicholson, James Woods, Stephen Dorff, Nikki Sixx, Nicolas Cage, Tim “The Toolman Taylor” Allen, Christie Turlington, and a soon-to-explode George Clooney, mere moments before his supernova of celebrity would ascend.
The guests who were perhaps most symbolic of the times (as well as the significance of the night’s festivities) were Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee, right, smack, dead-center in the middle of their… whatever-the-fuck-that-all-was.
Three years after that party, the hotel would secure a special place in my heart as the location of my first out-of-town business trip, the kind where your job flies you somewhere and puts you up in a hotel, etc. A pretty big deal for me, only 21 years of age at the time. They even put a card down for my incidentals.
You couldn’t tell me nothin’.
I was doing some creative / branding work for a California-based surf-wear brand that had just (very successfully) gone public. Virtually every employee from the company was flown out to Vegas twice a year to work the massive booth (and to generally “represent”) at the then-buzzing MAGIC (Men’s Apparel Guild in California) trade show. I would be out there for five days, liaising with some New York press and learning the ropes and culture of the beachey lifestyle brand.
My entire person was vibrating as I deplaned at McCarran International Airport and rushed out into the dry, February desert night. I navigated myself into a taxi and took the minutes-skip, down Paradise Road to the Hard Rock.
There’s a Stevie Ray Vaughn quote in massive letters above the main entrance that reads,
WHEN THIS HOUSE IS ROCKING
DON’T BOTHER KNOCKING
COME ON IN
The scene upon entering the 30,000 square foot casino floor was completely foreign to me. It was all so, so “West Coast”. This was 1998/99. Many were still very much invested in romanticizing the Sunset Strip, Whiskey-Viper-Riot-House heyday. A somewhat well subscribed to, historical belief system in which, say, Van Halen and Motley Crue would be considered the mystical forefathers and deities. An archaic trope of the rugged, western, blue-eyed, Stetson-clad, hairsprayed, well-cocained, guitar-slangin’ tattooed musical outlaw.
At the time, the sartorial retort to said look was the Blink 182 / Suicidal Tendencies 3.0 up-turned cap brim, socks-pulled-up-to-your-knees-with-vans-and-Dickies-shorts vibe. Travis Barker, basically.
It was fascinating, bizarre and new to me.
Scanning the sunken casino gaming floor from the check-in line, I was comforted by scattered sightings of archetypical New Yorkers, smarmy garmentos and up-and-coming hip-hop moguls. Home.
The Hard Rock and it’s acoustically jestering Center Bar was THE place to be at the twice-annual trade show that played host to a who’s who of clothing retailers, department store buyers, lifestyle media, ready-to-wear fashion upstarts, and the growing cadre of movers and shakers in the just-burgeoning Streetwear scene.
At the time, the Hard Rock had only one hotel building, the 305 room “Casino Tower”, so, to be staying at the Hard Rock, Ground Zero of the garment industry shmoozefest, was actually considered a somewhat exclusive and coveted booking to have scored during the show. It’s hard to believe now, but, yeah… this stupid place.
Most of the people downstairs, milling about the Center Bar, 24/7, were definitely not staying here. They were all staying all over the place, coming here to network and try and meet CEOs and investors and the press and other kinds of prositutes too.
I am not saying that the Hard Rock was “cool”. Oh Jesus Lord, no!
The Hard Rock is your meat-head, vaping cousin who’s a blast, but you can only take him for a couple of days at a time. You could never hang with him on a daily basis, but he’s hilarious, always has the best blow, and his parents have a hot tub in their backyard. Oh, also, he collects nunchucks. An incidentally artful ogre.
That’s the Hard Rock.
Since its 1995 opening, somehow, miraculously, the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino’s “brand” was able to remain separate and virtually unaffected by the association with its rightfully maligned tourist trap sister property, the Hard Rock Cafe. To my point, although situated (in a separate building) mere yards from the hotel’s front entrance, and featuring a landmark 82 foot tall blinking neon Gibson Les Paul, I, nor anyone I know, had ever once stepped foot in that original Las Vegas location of quadruple platinum t-shirt sales behemoth.
Over the years, the property managed to remain linked to the international “cool world” of Big City influencers, years before anybody would start calling them “influencers”.
From inception, the well-connected Peter Morton very organically and tastefully aligned the Hard Rock with respected, globally “juiced-in” creatives like Hollywood Promoter to the Stars, Brent Bolthouse, the sadly departed New York City Jean-Georges and Mercer Kitchen alum, “Iron” Chef Kerry Simon, and restauranteur (and one-time Darryl Hannah Beau), Bowery Hotel owner, Sean MacPherson. To the delight of the city, the hotel also featured Las Vegas’ first Nobu outpost.
Tonight though, it was my room-service burger meat, not Matsuhisa’s famed Omakase, that was raw.
One consumer perk brought on by this place’s imminent closure was that rooms were crazy cheap. My room this evening was $35, and the travel app asked me if I’d like to upgrade to a suite for an additional $16 per night. I declined. The app then asked me if I’d like to add an additional night for $27. I would like that. I did.
I came to the hotel to try and get some writing done in preparation for an interview I was hoping to secure with an elusive and controversial heavy metal photographer, a semi-recluse whose early-80s photography I discovered recently in a way out-of-the-way consignment shop. Total fluke, amazing body of work, but a hard man to track down.
It seemed like a good place to conduct my interview, surrounded by connoisseur-level metal paraphernalia. My thinking was that he’d go bonkers and nerd-out amidst all of the “Flying Vs” and enshrined leather jackets. The excitement would get him open and turn him gabby. We were running out of time and I had to lock him down soon.
They’re closing this place down in February for at least eight months as they break ground on a reportedly $200 million renovation and rebranding effort.
After checking in at what is described by signs around the property as the “Classic Front Desk” (There’s another front desk at the base of the HRH, or “Harmon” Tower), I embarked on the 37 mile journey across the casino floor and down the never-ending carpeted pathways towards my hotel tower, the furthest tower from the front desk, the Paradise Tower (named for the outside road to which it is closest). I hiked through a sea of RealTree camo, Under Armour, and Golden Knights hockey jerseys.
These places are all so huge. Americans are all so strange.
My expedition continued past Nobu, veering north beneath a gleaming chandelier of many saxophones, past the Pink Taco’s auto-rim mosaic and polished, custom low-rider bicycles. Past concert venue “The Joint” (current home of the annual Adult Video News Awards). Past the shitty Dunkin’ Donuts.
I saw that the Jon Varvatos store went out of business and it’s the happiest I’ve felt in years. I don’t know why, but it did, it made me feel great. Hopeful even. Look… I don’t know the guy and I’m sure he’s a great guy and I‘m truly happy for his success, but…you know… I don’t know.
Next to Varvatos’ shuttered menswear boutique, the Affliction store remained inexplicably open for business. There were 6 customers inside.
Why are these people?
Next door is the Hart & Huntington Tattoo shop, founded by BMX legend (or so I’ve been told) and “Mr. Pink” himself, Carey Hart.
I continued down the massive corridor leading towards the Paradise Tower. This wing of of hotel smelled like actual human waste. I passed a newly-opened gift shop called Night + Day, which sells an upmarket curation of toiletries, sundries, and Diptyque scented candles.
The entire vibe of this place is cloaked in the velveteen robe of a (I had thought) long-abandoned, romanticized version of some Cali-glam hair metal soap opera. The whole place looks like if you tribal-tattooed a Chrome Hearts necklace into a cowboy boot, folded the boot into a Von Dutch trucker hat, then sorta smooshed it all onto Dave Navarro’s head.
The casino’s property-wide, piped-in soundtrack sounds exactly what I image it would sound like if you found a Guy Fieri on the beach and held him up to your ear.
All of the carpeting is leopard print, or cheetah. (I’m just now realizing about myself that I may not quite know the difference)
The elevator door advertises a double-headliner show featuring the bands Live and Bush. Outside, on the long and foreboding street-facing wall of the Hard Rock’s Convention Hall, a massive billboard advertises The Joint’s October 6th Stone Temple Pilots concert. In case you missed it in the beginning… the year is 2019.
Something told me to come here, get my work done, and basically scope out the scene on this now-landmark’s (essential) “eve of destruction”. Also, as I mentioned earlier, I wanted to try and get into a “metal” mood. I paid a extra attention as I walked the seemingly never-ending halls, scanning the walls, observing and taking note of the many framed pieces of music history. There is no denying that the breadth of showbiz ephemera within the place is, indeed, impressive. No matter how cliche, they really do an amazing job here with the artifacts.
Hell, on the walk from the front desk to my elevators alone, I passed an entire showcase of REO Speedwagon’s belongings, David Bowie’s outfit from the Diamond Dogs days, Sum 41’s actual drum-set, and Elton John’s iconic, sequined Los Angeles Dodgers baseball uniform.
Yes, there’s tons of stuff from the Mick Jaggers and Eric Claptons and Phil Collens (of Def Leopard), but the Circle Jerks and Golgol Bordellos of the world are healthily represented here, as well. A truly well-done collection, surely curated by people with a profound love of music and great eye for its associated visual arts. That being said, the wallpaper in my room was a sort of Ed Hardy shirt, victorian-cum-celtic pattern, interspersed with crossed velour daggers.
My room has a comically Soviet view of the grey, parking garage wall, and the hallway of my floor smells like “nightclub guy” cologne. Thankfully, some good news is that the soda vending machine next to the service elevator accepts credit cards and the ice machine appears to be functional.
At one point, it occurred to me that maybe I should locate some Slayer memorabilia on the property for when I’m interviewing Photo Man. Maybe I’d walk him over to see it and get his expert, first hand opinions and insights on the glass enclosed instruments that shrapnelled forth tunes such as “South of Heaven” and “Reigning Blood.” It took me about twelve minutes longer than I had anticipated to find the Slayer stuff, located directly across from the queue of 55+ year olds in Iron Maiden shirts geriatrically awaiting the 8pm doors to the “Raiding the Rock Vault” cover band tribute show.
I know it sounds like I’m being kinda harsh on the place, and well, I am, but mainly because I feel it to be so offensively out of touch with Earth. Dangerously so, maybe.
It takes a certain type of group psychosis and unhinged arrogance for one to maintain that Queensryche is that important a piece of musical history, even though the article I read while in the bathroom earlier stated that their 1988 album, Operation Mindcrime is considered one of the “Greatest Heavy Metal Concept Albums of all time”. The same article lauded the Bellevue, Washington rockers’ “muscular metal riffs”.
A lyric that I just googled, from the one Queensryche song I ever heard, urges listeners to…
Ride the whims of your mind
Commanding in another world
Suddenly you hear and see
This magic new dimension
Soon, the Hard Rock’s Magic Mike XXL male strip-revue production (Based on the 2015 Channing Tatum vehicle of the same name) will have to find a new home as the corner of Paradise and Harmon enters a new era and dimension. They’re bulldozing the cafe building in a few weeks and the Neon Museum took the giant Les Paul and are having it “restored” for a laughably astronomical sum of money. Good for them. Good for the guitar.
A lot has changed around here. This place used to have food that was a little better than it had to be, honestly. Mr Lucky’s (the Hard Rock’s 24 hour Diner) had these amazing Watermelon Ribs and their perfect (.) pancakes were served with a solid ice cream scooper’s worth of vanilla-infused butter, smashed down into the fluffy, buttermilk stack.
The food now is, well, we discussed that earlier.
During my two day stay, I never got around to linking with my photographer guy, even though it would have been nice, but I did get caught up on some other writing that I had been putting off. Not to mention the beef and caramelized onion colonic that came free-of-charge with my room service order.
It was time to pack up my things and leave, but I knew I’d be back at least a few times before the February closing.
Riding the leather elevator downstairs, I wondered how many people had died on the property over the years, and where I could locate such a tally. Which staff member had this information? We all knew that John Entwistle of The Who died here in 2002 of what Clark County Medical Examiners called “heart attack induced by cocaine use.” But I mean, I wonder how many other people had died in these rooms and down those halls. It had to have been a lot. The air in here is heavy and haunted.
Baggage in hand, I headed toward the Paradise (parking) Garage.
A lonely glass showcase near the door houses a perfectly lit, broken turquoise surfboard with an inscription in metallic marker that reads,
“Hope I die before I get old.”