If you're a die hard fan of rock music and of the Hard Rock Cafes in the world (over 204 venues in 64 countries, which includes 157 cafes and 22 hotels) and love visiting to view the world's most treasured collection of rock 'n' roll memorabilia (as well as buying a special edition t-shirt in each location), there is no need for me to tell you about Florence's cafe as it's likely already on your list of places to visit while in Florence.
For everyone else still working on their itinerary, I'm sharing my experience of eating at the Hard Rock Cafe to tell you why I do recommend eating and visiting while you're in Florence.
A new cafe is born
The Hard Rock Cafe opened up its doors on June 14, 2011 in Florence, precisely on the 40th anniversary of the first Hard Rock Cafe opening in London. It is set within a unique historical location in downtown Florence just off a corner of Piazza della Repubblica, in what is known by all Florentines as the site of the old Gambrinus cinema.
After visiting the Hard Rock Cafe and seeing the setting it is in, I was interested in doing some research on the old Gambrinus. Even my very Florentine husband did not know that before it became a cinema in the early 1920's, the Gambrinus hall was actually born as a cafe, much like the more renown cafes – the Gilli, Paszkowski and Giubbe Rosse – found in Piazza della Repubblica. Much like these cafes, the Cafe Gambrinus was an important cultural and social meeting place in nineteenth and twentieth century Florence, so much so that all Florentines can remember a period of their life when they used to go there to meet up with friends, to watch a movie or to socialize at the cafe or outside under the portico.
Did you know...
... that "Gambrinus" is a legendary European culture hero, celebrated as an icon of beer, brewing, joviality and "joie de vivre"? As such, it makes for the perfect location for the Hard Rock Cafe as it continues the tradition of a place where you can be yourself, enjoy good food and have a good time!
The Gabrinus cafe was built in 1894 and it was unique compared to its neighbors in that it had a large internal terrace that looked down on the main cafe floor. Another huge difference from its neighbors was that it was also a billiards hall: the basement was a smoke-filled, male-dominated world where billiards, poker and other card games were played away from the eyes of their partners. Even once the cafe became a cinema in 1922, the game hall below was maintained for a long while. As its name rightly recalls, this was a place where joviality reigned.
While many of the cinemas in downtown Florence have closed over the last 20 years, the cafes have survived. In 2007, the cinema Gambrinus closed it doors: looking at its history, it makes perfect sense that it was reborn as a cafe just 4 years later, when the Hard Rock Cafe arrived in Florence.
A cafe and much more: a one of a kind collection
If you're interested in enjoying breakfast (from 8:30am), a mid-morning break or late afternoon drink, you can head to the Hard Rock Cafe and enjoy an espresso with a brioche or croissant or cocktail at the coffee bar and lounge just inside its doors. Tables set outside under the portico are the perfect location to take in the atmosphere of historical Florence, as well as people-watch.
How about enjoying a Happy Hour? Between 5and 7:30pm, there are special offers for snacks and cocktails. On Wednesdays and Fridays (when you can enjoy live music on the cinema's old stage), you can also enjoy a half-price menu at the main bar between 10pm and midnight.
As you step into the Hard Rock Cafe, you'll be struck by the awesome interior decoration of just the entrance hall: four original, renovated crystal chandeliers hang above the coffee counter, lounge and shop area. All around, the world-famous collection of rock 'n' roll memorabilia is on display. So even if you weren't to go further in, stop by and enjoy the magnificent entrance hall of this cafe.
As you enter to the right, you'll find the Rock Shop, where you can buy the unique memorabilia made just for Florence, from t-shirts to shot glasses to jewelry. If you have little kids, you'll also enjoy browsing the Roxstars collection made just for them!
I do, however, suggest to go further in. Beyond the lounge, you'll enter into the bar and restaurant area where you'll be able to see the transformation from the old cinema, including the stage that now hosts live music from local bands several times a week. You'll also find more of the memorabilia, which includes (to name just a tiny part of what you'll see):
- Michael Jackson's stage pants from the Jackson 5's 1981 Triumph tour (by the cafe bar)
- Jimi Hendrix’s shirt worn onstage at his Imperial College performance in London in 1967 (I read about this but now can't recall if I saw it... if you go, let me know where it is!)
- the Vespa scooter used in The Who's 1979 film Quadrophenia (as you walk into the bar area)
- John Lennon's black leather jacket worn in the 1967 film How I Won the War, directed by John's friend Richard Lester, who also directed A Hard Day's Night and Help! (above the front door)
- from Italian rock band Litfiba: Piero Pelu's pants worn during “El Diablo” concert tour and Federico “Ghigo” Renzulli's guitar
There are many, many other items that will have you going around and discovering them (Elvis Presley, Rihanna, Madonna and the Beatles to name just a few more), around the restaurant and bar area – which is pretty spectacular, but so is everything else. As we hope our photos show, the cafe is quite beautiful!
The terrace above the bar is still closed off, with the cinema seat tracks still in place (we asked). Projects for this area seem to be on-hold at the moment, but it would definitely be charming and special if this part of the old cafe we're to be reopened to be used by cafe patrons.
A taste of home
We went for lunch, it was busy but not overly so and we were pleased to note several families with small kids in high chairs. The atmosphere of the area is really informal, service was very cordial and attentive and there was music playing – all very positive aspects – so I feel like recommending it also as a perfect place for families with small children to head to. With a small girl ourselves, I know she can be her loud self here without being an annoyance to others.
We went for the traditional and ordered burgers! As all expats know, one of the things you end up missing from home the most is the food – generally, because memories are tied to this dish or that. As an American expat in particular, nostalgia does set in every now and then (as the original founders of Hard Rock Cafe did back in London when they opened the very first Cafe) for a great burger with fries. I've been disappointed before, but this was not the case here! A big, tall tasty burger (I ordered the one with hickory barbecue sauce and my partner had the Original Legendary) and perfect, crunchy fries – simply delicious! At this point, we could have stopped but the idea of an Oreo cookie cheesecake and hot fudge brownie sundae really made me/us salivate (I can't remember the last time I had either).... so soon found ourselves with a lot of dessert on our hands as the portions were quite generous! Next time we might just share one ;).
The next time will be pretty soon, as I was tempted by a lot of the options and will have to try others. The menu includes a lot of American favorites such as wings and nachos as starters, fajitas and mac & cheese, smokehouse ribs, brisket and pulled pork, club sandwiches and much more. The “Local Legendary” is a burger with local taste: we asked and it is made with Tuscan salami, Pecorino cheese, truffles and truffle-flavored mayo. So if you want try local flavors on a burger, I'd recommend that one... but for all other expats like me or travelers that want a taste of American flavors, there is plenty to choose from. Many hard to find ingredients in Florence are actually sent from the US so that flavors will be authentic while all fresh produce and high-quality meat, seafood and chicken is bought from local and national farms to make sure that the cafes offers the best meal experience. Everything is prepared here in the kitchen, with high quality, fresh ingredients. All of the kickory flavored meats are slowly cooked on the premises to ensure high quality food.
Another reason to head to the Hard Rock Cafe to eat? The kitchen opens at noon and doesn't close until midnight (or 1am on Fridays and Saturdays). If you've been busy at a museum in Florence during lunch or dinner and find that the trattorie or other restaurants in the area are closed, head here to eat. This is not to be underestimated, and you can learn from my personal experience: it took me a long time to remember that hours for eating at most places here in Tuscany are pretty strict and you can't just have a late lunch or early dinner if you're out busy sightseeing. The kitchens at other restaurants generally close between 2 and 3pm... and I've had to resort to eating premade (even if warmed up) panini at a bar just to avoid starvation! (If they were fresh, that would be another matter...)
Skip-the-line at the Hard Rock Cafe
If you're a fan of Hard Rock Cafe, you might already know that there is no possibility of making reservations to eat at their cafes. The motto “Love All, Serve All” which hangs over the stage recalls the wish of the founders to welcome anyone who came to eat and have a good time at their cafe, with no preference for one over the another. Did you know that the Hard Rock Cafe is now owned by the Seminole Tribe of Florida since 2007? It was something I learned during my visit. In any case, what the Hard Rock does offer is the possibility to “skip the line” if you come armed with the voucher you can buy right here. It includes the choice between getting a main course, dessert and beverage (Gold) or a starter, main course, dessert and beverage (Diamond) at really great prices. Even better, you can also get the Ultimate which offers you different choices from the Diamond plus your collectible Florence classic tshirt! You can buy a child's menu directly at the restaurant. While choices are set for each course, the selection includes favorites and really do offer a great deal for a great meal ;-).
Our Visit Florence readers can take advantage of this special offer: present this coupon and receive a special free collectable Hard Rock gift! It is valid with a 30 euro purchase in either the Cafe or Rock Shop, valid until the end of the year.
Are you a fan of Hard Rock? While I had not considered myself a “hard rock” type of gal before, I am now after enjoying some delicious nachos, ceasar's salad and delicious smoked ribs. ;-).
Disclaimer: While this is a sponsored post, this article expresses my personal and honest opinion about the Hard Rock Cafe and its offerings after having eaten there numerous times.
This is a Sponsored Article but reflects the honest opinion and experience of the author. More details »