“Where everybody knows your name” is the tagline of American TV sitcom “Cheers,” popular in the ’80s and early ’90s. The show is set in the bar Cheers, where a group of locals regularly meet up to relax, have a couple of drinks and share the troubles and joy of their daily lives.
When as a teenager in the summer of 1994 I first set foot in Hard Rock Cafe Jakarta, back then located at Sarinah shopping mall, little did I know this place would turn into my very own “Cheers.”
I was in Jakarta on holiday, and my sister and I were looking for a refreshing juice after an extensive souvenir shopping tour. It wasn’t crowded, and so some of the waiters and bartenders began some small talk with us. After sharing a few laughs together, we decided to come back on the weekend (after convincing our parents that it was safe to go out in Jakarta on a Friday night if chaperoned by our cousins).
It was the beginning of a love affair that had a lasting impact.
When we’d come back for vacation, the Hard Rock Cafe was one of the first places we’d go. When we moved here, the number of visits only increased.
Over the past 18 years, we were the Pepsi girls, the Tequila girls, the Whiskey Cola girls, and then simply the Hard Rock Cafe sisters, names perfectly representing our ages at different phases.
There is something strangely comforting about being a regular customer in a bar. The DJ plays your favorite songs. The bartenders know your preferred drink and can tell by the look on your face if you had a crappy day at work and want to be left alone, or if you’re in the mood for a chat. The waiters don’t even bother bringing over the menu because you’re never there for the food anyway. The security guards look out for you.
Over the years, the staff and the other regulars have become more than just acquaintances. Some of them are still my best friends, even though they might not work there anymore or have found another favorite spot to hang out.
Hard Rock was special, because back then, it was one of the few places that had decent live music every night and also managed to bring in big bands like Slank and Dewa 19 for concerts.
But mostly, it was special because of its staff. They were different than the teams at other cafes. They seemed a bit crazy, sporting piercings and tattoos, and they always had a good time and understood perfectly how to make the guests feel relaxed and welcome.
One of the waiters I became friends with told me that during his interview, the general manager asked him to dance on the table. I confirmed the story years later, and the manager simply laughed and said, “Yes, I did do that. I wanted the people who work here to bring in something unique.”
In its heyday, Hard Rock was so crowded on the weekends the queue at the entrance went all the way downstairs and around the corner.
When the Hard Rock Cafe moved to eX Plaza in 2004, it unfortunately lost some of its charm, and many of its regulars. The cozy wooden interior made way for a sleek design, and the place that used to be one of the coolest places in the city quickly turned into a restaurant with giant, overpriced burgers.
Many of my friends resigned to pursue new jobs with new challenges. Sure, I still got to know the new staff, but it was just different than it used to be. This was probably also due to the fact that I had become older, too. Many of the new staff were barely 20 years old, so when I first came to Hard Rock in 1994, they were still toddlers.
Eventually, I didn’t visit as often anymore. Then came a time when the host at the door asked me if I was there for dinner or drinks, and a bartender inquired, “What would you like to drink?” I knew then that times had changed for good, and that I had outlived that place.
Earlier this week, the Hard Rock Cafe celebrated its 20th anniversary. And even though I might not go there as often as I used to, I still have a soft spot for it in my heart: two decades worth of memories, both good and bad, happy and painful. It’s a little piece of home in Jakarta. It’s where I grew up.