UAE then and now: Dubai's original Hard Rock Cafe, the legend lives on

Use our interactive slider and the photo gallery to explore the rise and demise of one of the city's much-loved landmarks

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Today, life in the Emirates moves in the fast lane. In a new regular series to mark the 50th anniversary of the UAE, we take a little trip back in time and see just how much the country has changed.

The Chicago Beach Hotel, Ramada Dubai hotel and the Jumeirah TV tower are landmarks that once defined Dubai. They helped people navigate the city in the days before Google Maps and were places where fond memories were made.

And it didn't get more iconic than the much-loved Hard Rock Cafe.

Situated on Sheikh Zayed road, far away from the bright lights of Bur Dubai and Deira, the Hard Rock Cafe opened in December 1997 with a performance by none other than Chuck Berry. This was just before Dubai Marina and Jumeirah Beach Residence would reshape and extend the city once again.

The Hard Rock Cafe resembled a mini Empire State Building with two crossed concrete guitars, and it quickly became a famous landmark. It captured the freewheeling spirit of the times in a city that was set to expand far beyond what people thought possible.

It was also a popular stop off for people making the trek to Abu Dhabi. Michael Jackson apparently even had lunch there.

But change lay ahead. The Hard Rock Cafe was located near Dubai’s Media and Internet Cities and larger plans for the neighbourhood sealed its fate. It closed in 2009 and stood empty for a few years before the demolition crews moved in and the structure was torn down in 2013.

Not even a lively social media campaign that garnered thousands of supporters could save it.

It is not clear what happened to the original plans for the site as the global financial crisis intervened. Today, high-rise towers surround the area where the Cafe once stood. A new branch opened in Festival City in 2011, yet for many there will only ever be one Hard Rock.

Not everyone agrees, however. Dubai resident Martin Talty told The National when the building was torn down that he couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about.

“I don’t really understand it,” he said. “Surely there are other things in the world for people to campaign about than two crossed guitars in front of a building.

“It’s not as if it’s the coming down of the Berlin Wall.”

Updated: September 02, 2021, 7:22 AM