BEIRUT, Lebanon, Sept. 20 (UPI) -- For those who have misplaced their local Hard Rock Cafe T-shirt or baseball hat -- the famous logo wear is irreplaceable as Beirut, Lebanon's institution has shuttered its doors.
Many observers detected something wrong the last few months while dropping in for a burger or barbecue. The joint was empty. Thus the Hard Rock became just another name icon knocked over by the Levantine empty tourist seasons of the last number of years.
For two summers now, the hotel, entertainment, retail and restaurant sector has been taking a one-two combination punch with the loss of well-heeled MENA tourists and Beirutis' cutting back on going out quite so much.
Estimates range on the money lost but eateries and shops have been taking the toll, with closures appearing often.
In early September, Hard Rock Cafe announced its Beirut franchise would be closing after a 17-year run that started six years after the 1990 end of the protracted Lebanese civil war, giving optimism to those rebuilding Beirut that perhaps there was hope of businesses locating once again in the Levant.
Throughout its nearly two-decade tenure, the Beirut HRC welcomed a lengthy list of notables, including: rock and pop stars, Beirut politicians, gadflies, ambassadors and embassy staff, expats of many origins and many Lebanese who had done the obligatory stint in the United States. Staff said that even the occasional platoon of UNIFIL peacekeepers would drop by looking for some American cuisine while on R&R that was a cut above the famous Tastys in Marjayoun, south Lebanon.
"I liked it because it was big and cozy at the same time. The Super Combo was my favorite and I was usually there for some kind of event. The last group that I saw perform was local -- 'The Free Rolls' -- and, oh yeah, the nachos were off the hook," said Nour Tamer, 21, a junior at Lebanese University and a DVD and Internet shop manager in Antelias.
"Oh, I have so many memories about the Hard Rock Cafe. It was the trendy place to be in Beirut, after the war. And it boasted a lovely Corniche view," said Lena Rhabany, a writer. "It reminds me of my great university years at AUB. I used to go there a lot early '90s. I think it was the first 'American style' diner and bar to open after the war. Sad that it closed."
The Beirut Hard Rock Cafe announced its closing Sept. 9, in a statement posted to the restaurant's Facebook page.
"Hard Rock has enjoyed a rich history and has appreciated the opportunity to serve guests in Beirut. Hard Rock International remains committed to growth and expansion in the region, and looks forward to finding a new site for a Hard Rock Cafe location within the city of Beirut," the statement noted, hinting that the closure might not be for good.
The U.S. chain first opened in the Bay View Hotel in Ein el-Mreisseh in 1996.
A blogger on Beirut.com noted:
"Hard Rock Cafe will be missed by many! We will be waiting for the new location and hoping for a new start! It was a place operated by Lebanese people and provided jobs to Lebanese people," Carine Husni said.
And the Twitter verse contained a number of laments, a short list below:
"Its just sad how Hard Rock Cafe Beirut is closing and Sunday is its last day; since 1996," posted by Ashraf Hneini @ash_hn.
"Hard rock cafe is closing in #beirut after 20 years. Notice says it will open new branch soon, staff don't know when" posted Fernande van Tets @fernandevtets.
"Good bye "Hard Rock cafe" - #Lebanon #Beirut" posted Johayna @Johaynah.
"Good morning!! We're sad to announce that the Hard Rock Cafe Beirut is closing its doors." posted by Radio One (official) @RadioOneLeb.
Longtime Beirut writer, Michael Karam, in a story for the National newspaper of Abu Dhabi, put it well:
"When the Hard Rock opened just around the corner from the old St. George Yacht Club, the restaurant trade had also caught this strong tide of optimism,'' adding, "But now that party is over. The Gulf Arabs have gone, as has the 8 percent annual GDP growth. And while the Hard Rock stores away its memorabilia, the restaurant trade has been forced to change its game plan."
Hard Rock restaurant manager Shadi al-Bared had no comment for the media and referred questions to the statement issue by the company and by the cafe's Facebook site, now offline.
The worldwide Hard Rock franchise was founded in 1971 by Americans Isaac Igrett and Peter Morton in London and went on to cut a global swath, becoming known for its menu and rock 'n' roll memorabilia that decorated the walls, all unique and some very expensive.
The largely successful chain makes its headquarters in Orlando, Fla., after the nearly $1 billion sale to the Seminole Tribe of Florida, in a roll-up strategy by the tribe to expand upon its core business of casinos.
While the list of worldwide Hard Rock Cafes is subject to change -- they range from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, to Budapest, Hungary -- there are 175 Hard Rock locations in 53 countries, although one fewer after the closure in Beirut.
Another not-so-long ago headline demise for the Hard Rock Cafe empire was the 2012 closure in Beijing.
(Former business editor for UPI until 2008, T.K. Maloy is the MENA correspondent for the Marcopolis News Service; and a contributor to ArabSpringNow, the Beirut Daily Star and NOW Lebanon. He tweets @tkmaloy, Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.)
(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)