Why the Hard Rock Hotel Is Actually Great for NYC Residents
Stuck in Midtown? The new venue offers up a legitimately great steakhouse and an enviable rooftop bar.
As a New Yorker, do you really need to visit a Hard Rock Hotel?
A quick history lesson: The original Hard Rock Cafe was launched in 1971 and soon made a name for itself by showcasing rock’n’roll memorabilia and popping up in big, tourist-friendly cities around the world.
You know the T-shirt. And you might have been to one of the restaurants or hotels — we spent some fun times at the Hard Rock (RIP) in Vegas, which is now one of Richard Branson’s Virgin Hotels.
Meanwhile, our home city already has a Hard Rock Cafe, a 708-seat restaurant that I’ve steadfastly avoided except for an occasional media event. Would adding a Hard Rock Hotel to the tourist trap that is Times Square really help this city?
Johnny Oleksinski of the New York Post doesn’t think so. He is adamantly not a fan of the chain hotel/restaurant staking its claim to the supposedly hallowed grounds of, um, 48th St. and 7th Ave.
“One opportunistic, infamously tacky conglomerate would have you believe that the iconic Music Row is back and thriving,” says the writer (who also opined that Dry January was a “wholly selfish endeavor”). He continues: “That greedy building owners didn’t boot out some of the last vestiges of distinctive neighborhood character in Midtown in favor of bong stores and espresso bars. That Ringo Starr might roll up to purchase new drumsticks any day now. That would be the new Hard Rock Hotel, the latest outpost of the memorabilia and kitsch brand that surprisingly still exists.”
He then compares the Hard Rock to other Times Square chains such as Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville Resort, Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. and David & Buster’s (some of which I’ve enjoyed, both ironically and not).
I visited the Hard Rock in late May not as an overnight guest, but as a 27-year resident of this city who now works five minutes away from the new hotel. I admittedly do not love this area of town for socializing, but I and plenty of other white-collar workers in the area spend enough time in the shadows of the Theater District and Radio City Music Hall that we’re amenable to a surprisingly wide array of mainstream food or beverage options (ask how many times I’ve been to the World’s Largest Applebee’s on 50th and 7th).
My goal was to simply to enjoy an evening at the Hard Rock — which promises “extraordinary entertainment venues, 446 guestrooms and suites across 36 floors, and innovative dining” — sans irony or residential scorn.
I admittedly was not able to see Venue on Music Row, the hotel’s two-floor live entertainment space, or spend any time at the Sessions Restaurant & Bar, which was located near the check-in stand and seems geared more toward the everyday hotel guest. I also skipped the ground floor’s gift shop because I’m well aware of the Hard Rock’s tees and trinkets.
Instead, I concentrated on NYY Steak, the cavernous Yankees-affiliated steakhouse on the hotel’s street level, and RT60, the rooftop bar and lounge on the 34th floor.
This isn’t the first NYY Steak — there’s one in Florida (!) and another at Yankee Stadium. Ironically, this branch of the steakhouse is not a place where you’d actually watch a baseball game (we didn’t notice any TVs), even as you’re surrounded by an array of Yankees memorabilia and your meal arrives on dishes sporting the jersey numbers of famous Yankees players.
No, this is a classic steakhouse first and foremost, a la Keens, Del Frisco’s, Gallagher’s, etc. Nothing on the menu is going to shock you — we enjoyed a New York Strip Steak, creamed spinach, a smoked Old Fashioned (with a branded NYY ice cube), tuna tartar, bone marrow and a few other steakhouse staples during our Thursday night dinner. The restaurant offers an array of heritage cuts as well as some rarer ones, like the Japanese A5 “Snow Beef” from Hokkaido.
Overall, the service was attentive and the food, beautifully presented, was either familiarly solid steakhouse fare or (no pun intended) a cut above its Midtown peers (I somehow even enjoyed a beet salad). If you want a post-work ribeye or even a solid seafood option, NYY is certainly not cheap but highly recommended for small groups and those with expense accounts.
The hidden selling point of the Hard Rock? That top-floor lounge. Prices for beer and cocktails at RT60 were $9-$17 — or average NYC bar prices and about 50% less than the equivalent rooftop bar tab. The space was modestly arranged and the crowd decidedly non-hipster, and there was plenty of indoor and outdoor seating. As someone who’s found service, pricing and door policies of most New York rooftop bars to be exasperating — yes, there are exceptions — it was nice to enjoy an affordable drink at a space with a good view and not feel like I was going to be crowded out by a crew of overly assertive 25-year-olds.
Given the Midtown location, I don’t think the new Hard Rock is destroying any sort of New York legacy. I feel like the hotel is an ideal space for city residents to bring their out-of-town friends and family who don’t necessarily feel like trekking downtown or out to Brooklyn — and could serve as an occasional meetup space for New York residents trapped in the area not of their choosing.
The Hard Rock Hotel is located at 159 W. 48th St. between Sixth and Seventh Aves.
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