Just off of Times Square, on the block of 48th Street between Sixth and Seventh avenues, once stood Music Row.
From the 1930s to 2018, the area was home to eclectic shops like Sam Ash that sold instruments and other musical accouterments to the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, the Rolling Stones and The Beatles. Heard of ‘em?
There was nothing else like it in New York City or anywhere else in the world, for that matter.
Nowadays, however, I refer to that sad stretch of asphalt and inexplicable mold smell as Chipotle Way or Scaffolding Street, depending on which side I enter from.
But one opportunistic, infamously tacky conglomerate would have you believe that the iconic Music Row is back and thriving. That greedy building owners didn’t boot out some of the last vestiges of distinctive neighborhood character in Midtown in favor of bong stores and espresso bars. That Ringo Starr might roll up to purchase new drumsticks any day now.
That would be the new Hard Rock Hotel, the latest outpost of the memorabilia and kitsch brand that surprisingly still exists. It joins Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville Resort, Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. and David and Buster’s as businesses that make me think, “Perhaps Mayor Adams should try bringing back the XXX movie theaters and crack dealers!”
Yet somehow the Hard Rock is the biggest slap in the face of all of those schlock factories because it so flagrantly steals from the rubble it is standing atop. One of the three theaters it houses is even called “The Venue at Music Row.” Oh, please.
Inside, the Hard Rock is somewhat more elegant than its international brethren of lodgings and chicken-finger-filled cafes. I searched and searched for one of ZZ Top’s beards stapled to a wall, but didn’t even spot stubble.
Then I squeamishly encountered the ground-floor Rock Shop, where you can’t buy guitars from master craftsmen who’ve honed their art for decades, but you can take home a Hard Rock-branded sequined bomber jacket for $150. And for those of you who really embrace the sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle, pick up a croissant in the well-lit attached bakery.
Why not go even harder, man? Up in your room you can do “RockOm” yoga, or have a Fender guitar delivered for you to poorly play while filming Instagram videos — with headphones. Party on, losers!
Making my way upstairs to the bar and restaurant, I started to see the typical trinkets, but they made me more nauseous than in Florida or Las Vegas. New York, unlike Orlando, already is a museum of music history without having to resort to such corporate gimmickry.
Behind one glass pane was a love letter sent by Frank Sinatra to his then-wife Mia Farrow. Nice. But why not instead go to one of the Chairman of the Board’s favorite New York hangouts just a few blocks away? The Russian Samovar on 52nd Street was once called Jilly’s Canteen where Sinatra would spend many a night. The bar upstairs has been kept as is — not knocked down and commodified by a 446-room hotel.
Then there were Lady Gaga’s silver boots she wore to the 2018 Grammy Awards. The Little Monsters are surely plotting to steal them even now. Instead of getting arrested, head down to the Bitter End in the West Village, where Gaga performed when she was still called Stefani Germanotta.
John Lennon’s 1971 handwritten lyrics to “New York City” are a sweet find. More moving, and chilling to this day, though, is standing outside the Dakota, where the Beatle lived and was murdered by Mark David Chapman.
Every block in this city has a story like that. I just learned that I walk by Bob Dylan’s first NYC apartment every single day (161 West 4th Street) and had no clue. But, oh, the Hard Rock has one of his guitars, so why bother venturing beyond the neon lights of Midtown, with its comforting Krispy Kreme and brutally scorched meats on a bun?
Times Square is fast turning into Epcot with crime, or Las Vegas without a miniaturized St. Mark’s Square. It’s a travesty.
Here’s the cold, Hard Rock truth: The Crossroads of the World should hold onto more things that are proudly, unmistakably and unapologetically New York. And screw the rest.