Hard Rock lights guitar, will open Saturday
By MARY PEREZ
BILOXI --The huge Hard Rock Casino guitar that survived Hurricane Katrina was officially lighted Thursday morning and Joe Billhimer, president of the Hard Rock Biloxi, told employees and the media, "Get ready."
"You can feel the energy in here," said Sue Reynolds of Ocean Springs, who was enjoying a sneak peek of Hard Rock Cafe where her daughter, Elaine Murphree, is a bartender. "I had to be the first," Reynolds said as she and Ann Mead of Ocean Springs and Jean Rouse of Gulfport ordered lunch and shopped, helping employees become familiar with their new jobs.
"We've always wanted to open as soon as we possibly could," said Billhimer, who helped restore the $235 million hotel and casino that was heavily damaged by Katrina days before it was set to open. Finishing touches and training will continue right up to opening Saturday at 10 a.m.
Hard Rock Casino looks and sounds distinctive on the outside, with purple windows against white walls and that huge guitar spewing music. Inside, everything from the decor to the enthusiasm of the staff shouts entertainment. A two-story memorabilia tower greets guests just inside the front door and the collection extends to every corner of the resort.
Elvis' uniform, fished out of the Gulf after the storm; a wedding gown worn by Madonna; Elton John's flowing feathered coat; John Lennon's purple jacket; and signed guitars, photographs, art and gold records hang everywhere. A special display shows items returned after the hurricane, including Eddie Van Halen's sneakers, guitars from Ozzy Osbourne and Gene Simmons of Kiss, an Eagles' golden record and a 3 Doors Down tribute.
"Hard Rock is about the music, for sure," said Karl Bulot, senior vice president of non-gaming operations. Almost $3 million in color-changing lights and $5 million in audio and visual equipment surround guests with sight and sound, from the casino floor to the Hard Rock Live venue.
In the Hard Rock Cafe, the menu is the same as in the more than 120 other locations, featuring hamburgers, a rack of smokehouse ribs and crabcakes until 2 a.m. General Manager Tony Poole said, "What makes us different is what we have on the wall," so visitors are encouraged to wander and admire the memorabilia.
For the first opening, Hard Rock began to partner with quality companies that would add to the resort. "We're gaming and entertainment experts," he said of Hard Rock. "Ruth's Chris, a big staple in New Orleans, was a natural for us." Starbucks Coffee and Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream are part of the resort.
Another partner, Rise Lounge on the top floor of Hard Rock, will open Thursday and owner Rande Gerber and his wife, model Cindy Crawford, plan to be there to welcome some of the first guests. "They're the best in the world," Billhimer said of the Gerber Group, which has some of the swankiest restaurants and bars worldwide.
Dorothy Viera, front office manager, said Hard Rock has 26 suites with incredible water and city views and 292 rooms, all with Aveda products, plasma televisions and "sleep-like-a-rock beds."
The resort also has Rock Spa, Satisfaction Buffet and Rock Shops where guests can get their Hard Rock Biloxi T-shirts.