Arlo Guthrie visits Hard Rock Park eatery

lfleisher@thesunnews.comMay 6, 2008 

When the movie "Alice's Restaurant" came out in 1969, two years after the famous song was released, the producers wanted to open a chain of food joints, with cut-out posters of the folk composer Arlo Guthrie. Guthrie said no.

Now, almost 40 years later, he's not so opposed. A lot has changed since then, he said Monday in Myrtle Beach, where he celebrated the upcoming opening of Alice's Restaurant in Hard Rock Park, the first such eatery he has endorsed.

"There's a lot more tolerance for people actually trying to make a living than there used to be," he said. "It's become part of the vernacular of the culture. And so it's eased up. ... The standard's a little different. The times are different."

Guthrie helped develop the menu of the only sit-down restaurant at the $400 million theme park. He insisted the restaurant, which opens June 2, offer a fabulous Thanksgiving meal - fitting, since the 18½-minute long song starts off describing events that happened after a Thanksgiving dinner in New England.

The park, off U.S. 501, is wrapping up its limited opening period this week. Starting Friday, the park will open for longer hours - 10 a.m. to 10 p.m - and charge $50 for admission, plus $10 for parking.

Alice's Restaurant is one of a number of attractions that use names from pop music. Led Zeppelin, the Eagles and The Moody Blues are a few others that have licensing agreements with the park.

"It's great to be in a small crowd of people for whom my contribution to the world has not gone unnoticed," Guthrie said.

Before the park opened Monday, Guthrie ate, signed autographs and posed for pictures, knife and fork up, just like the famous pose on the 1967 album cover - this time, with a shirt on.

The restaurant is decorated with a mix of New England style and counterculture. There's a white, wooden faux "exterior" to the restaurant, which is in the Lost in the '70s indoor arcade.

Crocheted items and celebrity mug shots from the era hang on the wall, and an old-style television that plays the "Alice's Restaurant" movie sits by the front door.

A long, yellow wall that leads up to the restaurant will soon be filled with graffiti; park-goers will be invited to scribble their names. Guthrie made the first imprint, followed by the park staff.

Guthrie said he was "dubious" when he heard of the Hard Rock Park concept, and he wondered whether the world needed another theme park. But the park's diversity won him over.

"It was nice to see the inclusion of so many different types of music in a fairly small spot without getting into the academic, museum nature of it," Guthrie said. "I thought, 'As long as it's not too cheesy, and as long as it's not one of those places that nickel-and-dime you for everything - like we're so used to now - then I think it would be a lot of fun.' And I think they have risen above all the temptations."

The original Alice, Alice Brock, is an artist and book illustrator who has a gallery in her home in Provincetown, Mass. Though she said she disapproves of cashing in and getting involved with corporations, she's fine with the park opening the restaurant - as long as nobody thinks she has anything to do with it, as has happened with other Alice's Restaurant inceptions.

"I think the whole world is a theme park, certainly these days," she said. "It's not the kind of thing I would do but as long as people are having a good time and they don't get food poisoning."

Guthrie said he is touring through August 2009 - so don't expect him to perform at the Hard Rock Park soon. But the park expects him to come back at some point, mingle with the guests and perhaps even play a little acoustic guitar, said Jon Binkowski, the park's chief creative officer.

The restaurant's hours and prices have not yet been determined, park spokeswoman Megan Winnett said.

Though the 1967 song's message - questioning authority - might not make for a fun culinary side dish, Guthrie said he hopes the restaurant helps carry his message to diners for generations to come.

"Some people are going to come in here and say, 'Who is this guy?' and maybe they'll buy a record or listen to a link on some Web site, and maybe they'll think a little more," he said. "And if that happens, I'll be happy."

Contact LISA FLEISHER at 626-0317.

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