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Of Glitz, Grit and Gigs: Hard Rock Café’s First India Outlet in Worli, Mumbai Shuts

In 12 years, the pub venue became known for its steadfast programming and playing host for every kind of music lover

Anurag Tagat Nov 21, 2018

The Local Train perform at Hard Rock Cafe Worli in 2016. Photo: Prashin Jagger

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At a time when Mumbai is struggling with music venues, the city has lost one of its bigger spaces where every Thursday night held the promise of loud, unabashed rock. Mumbai’s most popular gig space Hard Rock Café has shut down–turns out they were defaulting on their rent, according to news in Mumbai Mirror today. Reportedly, Bombay Dyeing, owners of the compound the club is located in, terminated their contract with JSM Corporation, who are franchisee holders for Hard Rock Café in India, but the latter denied that rent problems were the cause, citing a “purely commercial” reason for termination. With an Andheri branch still going strong since 2013, it remains to be seen where or how a venue as well-remembered (and for musicians, occasionally notorious) as Hard Rock Café Worli will be replaced.

In mid 2007, when Hard Rock Café hosted televised band competition Channel [V] Launchpad, anyone who had been to gigs in the past were about to see something super-sized. The stage had shifted from its usual platform above the bar to an elevated area on the other side of the massive 6,000 square feet space which still retained some of its mill vibe, including a high ceiling.

For weeks on end, some of India’s next-level independent artists took to the stage – from New Delhi rockers Superfuzz to Chennai rock heroes Junkyard Groove, Mumbai metallers such as Skincold and Bhayanak Maut and Bengaluru’s Synapse. As someone who had just been initiated into homegrown rock and metal, going to Hard Rock Café was often like entering an unexpectedly glamorous place that still somehow didn’t mind having a bunch of unremarkably dressed college kids. Held in the early evening to avoid clashing with its regular programming, Launchpad was a perfect example of the entertainment world’s VJs, actors and models mingling with musicians and fans.

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Whether it was seeing seasoned bands like Pentagram, Split or Medusa (now Sky Rabbit) nearly a decade ago or catching international acts such as prog stalwarts Karnivool, indie duo Tegan & Sara, Australian rock band Wolfmother and so many more, Hard Rock Café always seemed to have their doors waiting to open. Of course, the venue almost deliberately ensured it would never update its playlist and stick to rock & roll classics plus radio rock from the ages – if you wanted to hear Massive Attack on the P.A., your best bet was its nearby rival Blue Frog, which started just a year after Hard Rock in 2007.

Even then, a large capacity venue that it was, Hard Rock Café in Worli hosted parties, tribute gigs, indie, metal and occasionally electronic. Even in 2007, though, it didn’t take long to overhear either an artist or a seemingly regular gig-goer mention “Oh, the sound really sucked.” Taken to task or just regularly bemoaned was the quality of live sound at Hard Rock Café. It’s safe to say sound issues and gear quality was often an issue for Indian bands, but then you also wondered if they were a tad spoiled. Nightmare scenarios for artists on stage, across many Hard Rock Cafés that have since opened after the first one in Worli, remained synonymous with the chain.

But if you were offstage, Hard Rock Café always gained praise for its food and drink selection as well as special menus over the years. Any artist would tell you their shitty gig experience was slightly salvaged thanks to Hard Rock’s burgers or Mac & Cheese. The cover charge (sometimes hefty but mostly useful) was generally redeemed contently by most attendees. But that’s about where the praise ended for the chain, considering artists regularly took to social media with their stories of delayed payment, limited budgets and more.

It’s a “no shit, Sherlock” thing to say that independent artists struggle with getting paid, and venues still have a tough time figuring out finances, but Hard Rock Café remained relentless in its programming and booking of shows week in, week out for the last 12 years it has existed. If you wanted to know what gig to go to on a Thursday night, you would likely look up Hard Rock Café first.  

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