When you hear the words ”Hard Rock Cafe?” what comes to mind: stupendous hamburgers? The iconic neon guitar? World-class memorabilia? They’re all correct. And yep, you read that right: the Hard Rock Cafe New York in Times Square has an astonishing collection of rock mementos, which you can see as you stroll by on your own—or else on one of their new tours.
What rock history will you see at the Hard Rock Cafe? Spread around the entire restaurant, the collection leans heavily towards hard rock and heavy metal, and even if that's not your thing, the memorabilia is so interesting you might just develop a newfound taste. For starters, there's a cool white suit worn by drummer John Bonham of Led Zeppelin, purchased at a London boutique called Granny Takes a Trip. Bo Diddley (known to his mom and dad as Ellas McDaniel) is also represented: he’s often thought to be the greatest rhythm guitarist of all time, known for his rumba-based beat. You’ll see his first guitar—he built it himself.
One of most recognizable instruments in the collection is John Entwistle's “Lightning Bolt” bass, custom-made by British luthier Peter Cook; you may recognize it from Entwistle’s drawing for the cover of The Who’s album The Who By Numbers.
Want to see handwritten lyrics? They've got ‘em: Check out the original draft of Jimi Hendrix’s song “Midnight Lightning.” (A studio version wasn’t released until 1975, five years after Hendrix’s death.)
Other cool stuff as you walk around the huge, multi-level space:
A guitar that some might argue is the most important piece of music history in the collection: the Gibson SG that belonged to Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath. Customized by British guitar builder John Birch, this instrument was at the very beginning of heavy metal. It was used on the first five Black Sabbath albums.
Interests run more towards costume? Gaze at outfits worn by Gwen Stefani and Madonna, and a t-shirt that was worn by New York Dolls bass player Arthur Kane; he’s rocking it on the back of the 1974 album Too Much Too Soon.
If you’re on your own—or even if you’re not—one of the best things you can do is just to wander and let yourself be steered towards what looks interesting (which is pretty much everything). You’ll see items that belonged to Elvis Presley, Bruce Springsteen, the Ramones, and John Lennon, and learn cool backstories.
Oh, and don’t forget to have one of those iconic hamburgers. They’re famous for a reason.
The Hard Rock Cafe New York is located at 1501 Broadway, at 43rd Street, in the heart of Times Square. Call 212-343-3355 or visit HardRock.com/NewYork for additional details.