The Hard Rock pyramid finishes its final act

On the last Friday night it served customers, the Hard Rock Cafe pyramid was hardly rocking.

On the patio, the band Diversity was working its way through a rendition of Katy Perry’s “Eye of the Tiger.” After a few more songs, it switched gears to “Sweet Child of Mine,” to a hearty whoop from the roughly 20 people who had clustered near the stage.

Customers mostly sat around the bar, sipping Bud Lights in bottles or orange-and-pink mixed drinks from plastic cups. Peak tourist season had passed, but many visitors were from out of town. Few seemed aware that it was the building’s last weekend at Broadway at the Beach, and that the only Hard Rock Cafe shaped as an Egyptian pyramid was closing and would soon be demolished.

One of the opening acts of the pyramid in 1995 was different, staff members from that time said.

“Joan Jett rocked the house, there was just no two ways about it,” Debbie Nelson, an officer manager for the cafe for its first two years, said.

That night, guests were also starstruck as actor Keanu Reeves and his band Dogstar opened for Jett, Nelson said. A signed pair of Jett’s leather pants, surrounded by pictures of the rocker, still hangs in the lower level of the interior pyramid.

Enthusiasm for the cafe was at a fever pitch in its early years, Michelle Farah said. Farah still lives in Myrtle Beach, but when she started out in the gift shop in the pyramid, she said two lines would wrap around the base of the pyramid as visitors backed up – one for people waiting to get a table, the other for tourists eager to buy anything from the shop that said “Myrtle Beach.”

“We would have ambulances there on a daily basis because of people passing out there in the heat,” she said. “It was crazy times.”

Some met spouses in the pyramid, and Farah said she met her husband there, who was another staff member at the time. Michelle Hulin, a pharmacy technician who now lives in the Las Vegas area with her husband Jim, met him there as well, but both were from out of town and came to the pyramid in a hastily-organized event for Hard Rock pin collectors. She had been talking to him online before the meeting in February 2001, she said.

“That’s the moment that I had him at hello. So for me, it’s a love story,” Hulin said of the pyramid. “I walked up to him and said, ‘I’m Michelle,’ and he said, ‘I know.’ 

A new cafe comes together

Just a few doors down, the massive guitar atop the new Hard Rock was already lit in neon on Friday.

“We were excited about the spot opening up, because this was a prime location,” Keith Stamp, general manager of the cafe, told The Sun News after a tour of the new space Thursday morning. “It fits Hard Rock perfectly, to a T, and it’s right on the corner of Main and Main … in a Broadway at the Beach sense.”

Stamp said the move is all about timing, and said he’s thrilled about the new space. It has nothing to do with the pyramid itself, he said.

“There’s nothing structurally wrong with the pyramid,” Stamp said. “I’ve heard the rumor that someone said that it’s sinking. It’s not sinking.”

The new 15,043-square-foot Hard Rock is not as unique in shape, but features an upstairs balcony that Stamp said would be a great for viewing Broadway at the Beach’s fireworks displays in the summer. The interior is painted in black, dark blue, taupe and red, and a brick wall hung with red velvet curtains sits behind the new stage.

It includes updated memorabilia, and only two items from the pyramid will make the transition: a Guns N’ Roses drum set and a Vespa from “Quadrophenia,” the film by The Who. The rest – including Joan Jett’s leather pants and signed memorabilia from Hootie & the Blowfish specifically mentioning Myrtle Beach – will be sent back to Hard Rock’s headquarters in Orlando.

Jeff Nolan, a music historian for Hard Rock International, highlighted the guitar destroyed on tour by Nine in Nails member Trent Reznor in 1999 and an acoustic Kay played by blues guitarist Jimmy Reed. “People who are passionate about blues are going to come in here and see that [Kay] and lose their minds,” Nolan said.

The cafe also includes items that aren’t strictly related to rock music, like the bleach-splattered denim vest worn by rapper Mackelmore in the “Thrift Shop” video or Johnny Cash’s gun holster.

“They’ve done, I think, an incredible job of balancing genre and era, classic and contemporary,” Nolan said.

The pyramid’s final act

On Saturday night, a larger celebration was set for the pyramid, with the band Them Dirty Roses scheduled to perform. Hulin said many pin collectors were planning on making their way back to the pyramid for that night.

Hulin said she would not be there, and she was also planning to stop a tradition that she and her husband had carried on since they met in the space – she would not collect any pins from Myrtle Beach after the pyramid closed. She had already amassed more than 500, almost all of the pins that had been produced for that location.

“The Myrtle Beach pyramid where we met is closing, and it’s just kind of the end of an era,” she said. “It’s a nice way to cap it off and, say, close [the collection] off.”

Nelson, the former office manager, said she would not be visiting the pyramid again. “I don’t know if I could stand it anyway,” she said. She now lives in Oxford, Mississippi, but said she treasures her memories of Hard Rock.

“It’s funny when some things just aren’t just jobs,” she said. “You’re in a role and you’re part of a team that is doing something that – it’s fun, it’s dynamic, it entertains people.”

On Oct. 7, new visitors will be able to fill the 528 seats at the updated Hard Rock, listen to music coming out of its 121 speakers and marvel at the massive centerpiece above the bar, a series of curved pipes meant to evoke both a motorcycle exhaust and an organ. Stamp said staff members, all of whom will be retained in the move, are eager to work in the new cafe.

“It’s time to create new memories, and this is gonna be a phenomenal building,” Stamp said.

Whenever the pyramid goes down, he said, “I’ll probably be here, working.”

Chloe Johnson: 843-626-0381, @_ChloeAJ

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