Black velvet Elvis

"I'm sorry sir, your beer will take a few minutes because the computer's down."
I swear a waiter said that to us this week, and it just seemed to sum up how weird modern life is. How full of contradictory baloney.

The waiter worked at The Hard Rock Cafe, and the whole reason I was revisiting the place was because of contradictory baloney going on in Cleveland.

We don't have a Hall of Fame, but we do have The High Court of Rock and Roll right here in Dallas. One seemed to call for a look at the other.

I don't think I like all this mummifying of rock and roll. I don't think I like the idea of a Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and I think I especially don't like the way it turned out. The whole thing is way too tasteful, way too restrained, way too serious. I mean, does I.M. Pei have any attitude? Where's the funk? Where's the edge? Where's the sex and drugs? The building looks like a Boston Pops version of a Led Zeppelin song.

The Hard Rock in Dallas, however, has a little self-indulgence going for it. There's plenty of tacky brass, and some great stuff. There's a great picture of Janis in her purple velvet pants, the handwritten lyric sheet to "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," and I do love the stained-glass windows--they have attitude, they make a funny point about the worship of rock gods, and enough people would say they were totally tasteless for them to be cool.

It seemed appropriate that the video monitors were rolling at the opening of the Hall of Fame, only without the sound on. Instead, the words were flashed on the screen like the English translations at the Opera. So we read the lyrics to the Kinks' "All Day and All of the Night," a great song that reads like a Dick and Jane primer, while we drank a Rockin' Rita and a ridiculous drink made with raspberry liqueur and vodka called a Purple Haze. This reminded me of one of those John Anders columns where he makes up the teams for the cities. Let's update and make a list of drinks based on rock and roll.

The food here is dependable and good enough. The Tennessee-style barbecued pork sandwich is a staple, and so are the big burgers. We tried some other stuff--a mammoth plate of "Tennessee-style" barbecued ribs, tender and sweetly sticky, probably oven-baked, with a paper cup of mediocre cole slaw and one of extra sauce.

The smoked chicken, a whole half, was good--when I slicked the gooey skin off, the meat was moist and wood-scented. The new BBQ sandwich was not so hot; its salt-sprinkled, chewy pretzel bun was pretty good, but the chopped beef filling was skimpy and ketchupy-sweet, reminding me most of schoolroom sloppy joes. Everything we ordered came with fries, hand-cut and deliciously crisp.

Thick fudge clotted in the bottom of the sundae glass; Toffee Heath Bar ice cream, not Ben and Jerry's, was strangely flavorless, and there was too much air in the whipped cream. (Am I picky? I don't think so. There's nothing worse than indulging yourself and then finding the sin isn't any good.)

New items on the menu seemed to emphasize vegetables instead of the old classic menu of American "Happy Days" burgers and R&B barbecue and cole slaw--caesar salad was one, with a piece of foccacia balanced on the side, and a grilled vegetable sandwich called the VLT.

Hard Rock Cafe, here and elsewhere, is a fitter memorial than Pei's to rock & roll, if it needs one. Rock's not really about stuff, of course, it's about music and rebellion, and Hard Rock has occasional concerts, and the music is always too loud to talk easily, which is appropriate. I like the fact that there's some stuff that's pretty awe-inspiring, giving one slightly reverent pause, but it's also just background to a restaurant.

This is a popular place for little kids, and a birthday song breaks out every few minutes with the whole joint joining in. There are also plenty of rock-worshipers who walk around and check out the stuff, like a museum, only everyone's drinking, loosening up and having a good time.

Like a theme park, the food's really secondary. Hard Rock was the first of these museum-like restaurants--Planet Hollywood is the latest to go national. If you're going to rate it by stuff, though, Hard Rock wins. Give me a break--Don Johnson's yearbook? But hand-colored congratulations to the Monterey Pop Festival from "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts' Club Band" with John, Paul, George, and Ringo's signatures--that's culture. It just doesn't belong in a museum.

--Mary Brown Malouf

Hard Rock Cafe, 2601 McKinney Ave., 855-0007. Open Sunday-Thursday 11 a.m.-midnight; Friday-Saturday 11 a.m.- 1 a.m.

Hard Rock Cafe:
Smoked barbecue beef on a pretzel roll $7.99
Hickory smoked barbecue chicken $8.99
Caesar salad $6.


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