Nothing says rock and roll like a bar and grill out in the middle of nowhere, so close to a Nebraska Furniture Mart that your address is on Nebraska Furniture Mart Drive. But if you happen to be out in The Colony and want average food and a large beer selection surrounded by televisions, Rock & Brews is that place. The menu caters to the terrified-of-ordering-something-you've-never-had-before crowd. Two of this franchise's owners are Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley of KISS, the hard rock band that started in 1973.
The newest location in The Colony — 30 minutes drive north from Dallas but considerably closer to suburbs like Frisco and Plano — is one of several locations across the country. When a Rock & Brews opens, Gene Simmons, now 66, and Paul Stanley, 64, show up and do press. They also feed veterans and auction memorabilia for charities that benefit veterans. It's something they feel passionate about.
Shaped like a pavilion, Rock & Brews is huge. An enormous painting of Stevie Ray Vaughn towers over the dining room, which offers indoor and outdoor dining. The restaurant and especially the bar inside are enormous. The menu is typical bar and grill fare: wings, salads, loaded cheese fries, pizzas, burgers. But Stanley says there is an effort to use local produce and points out several local brews in the restaurant's massive selection of beer.
On the day of the grand opening, the parking lot was full of veterans waiting to meet Simmons and Stanley and try the food. Before veterans were let inside, the two rock stars wandered around the restaurant doing interviews and taking photos with food. They wore all black, obviously, but no makeup, and Simmons wore shades the whole time. Every once in awhile someone would scream with excitement as they met the old rock stars.
The two prefer to do very short interviews alone. They are not exactly humble, and had plenty of prepared answers to help steer away from real questions. When Stanley wanders over, he offers a fist bump rather than a handshake. “I’m not being rude,” says Stanley. “But there you go.” He has an earring, long hair — black, of course — and a beard.
“Well, Rock & Brews,” Stanley starts. “This is our 15th. And the only reason there are 15 so far is because they are so successful, people love them, and it’s become a lifestyle. Every community that it goes into, it becomes the local place to meet other people, to have great food. If you could serve this food at home, you’d have company all the time.”
“The theme here is classic rock,” Stanley continues. “But it’s not a funeral parlor. We’re not exhibiting the clothes of dead musicians.”
Stanley’s concern for veterans seems genuine.
“The first people who walk through these doors are veterans,” he says. “Their needs are not being addressed properly and we want to draw attention to it. Freedom only seems to be free for those who don’t sacrifice for it."
When Simmons appears, he, too, fist bumps. During our talk if I tried to speak, he would cut me off or look over his shoulder. “If I wanted to listen to music what kind of music would I want to listen to?” Simmons asks, launching unprovoked into an odd spiel that suggests confusion about the current decade. He seems to suggest that Led Zeppelin is still selling out stadiums. He says everyone likes The Smiths and The Thompson Twins, but they are not selling out stadiums.
“The word ‘rock star’ is synonymous with a form of music,” Simmons continues, apropos of nothing whatsoever. “There is no other form of music or culture that uses that term. Bill Clinton, that’s a rock star. You can’t say he’s a hip-hop star because hip-hop means nothing. You can’t say that politician over there is a country-western star. It doesn’t mean anything.”
Simmons keeps going. “You can use it as a verb: Let’s rock. You can’t say, Let’s country. Only rock has the gravitas; it’s a verb, it’s a noun, it’s a lifestyle, it’s everything. That also infers a certain type of food that Americans love to eat.” By then it's clear that this is regularly scheduled programming. A journalist once said Andy Warhol looked like death warmed over. The same could be said for Simmons.
Simmons starts to say almost exactly what Stanley said about looking out for veterans. But being interrupted and asked to elaborate annoys him enough to convey a genuine concern. “Somewhere in God’s armpit in the Middle East, there are Americans who are risking their lives for an ideal and an idea,” Simmons says. “The ones who are captured have horrible things done to them, some are beheaded."
“But at the same time you can have a woman in her car on the highway complaining that the traffic is bad and the wind is giving her a bad hair day,” Simmons continues. “The rest of the world could blow up in chaos and we are so far away here in America, unless you see it on TV you are not aware of it. There should be a daily reminder that right now, today, somewhere in the world sons and daughters are risking their lives for an idea.”
When asked how to tell one Rock & Brews apart from another, Simmons starts a long-winded answer he has probably given several times off with, “The more you come to Texas, the more you realize the food is spicier, the women are hotter.” Sure. By the time he gets to craft beer, Simmons sounds like he is doing a spot in a commercial.
And then, as he's pulled away, the question of the hour: Simmons — who recently called Prince's death "pathetic" and called drugs and alcohol "a slow death" — has long been outspoken about the pitfalls of alcohol, which he claims to have never consumed. How can someone who has been so vocally negative about alcohol invest money in a business that sells so much of it? “Life gives you a menu," Simmons says. "My personal decision in life is I’ve never been high or drunk in my life. I don’t do alcohol. But if you want to, why shouldn’t you have the best? Why shouldn’t you have a menu? Pleasure to talk to me.”
And then he walked away.
Rock & Brews, 5351 Nebraska Furniture Mart Drive, The Colony