At last after a two-year wait, the party has begun at Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Biloxi. Originally scheduled to open in August 2005, the property suffered heavy damage from Hurricane Katrina. It has undergone renovations and repairs to become the first new casino to open in Biloxi in eight years.
With 1,500 cheering employees looking on, Hard Rock Biloxi president Joe Billhimer flipped the switch to light the 112-foot neon Peavey guitar to signal the property’s opening.
“Seeing this guitar right after Katrina gave me hope,” Billhimer said. “It was left standing. It was important to us that the signature sign represent a Mississippi product. We have always known the Hard Rock brand would be something truly unique. Today, it’s an even more special project, and we are honored to finally show guests what we have built for them.”
Biloxi Mayor A.J. Holloway was on hand to welcome the new business. “Is this a great day or what?” he asked. “We are gonna open up this time and this is an exciting project.”
One really big guitar
Peavey Electronics’ president, Hartley Peavey, was also present to bless the lighting of the huge sign that simulates the guitars made by his Meridian company.
“It’s great to be a part of this place,” he said. “This sign is a testimony to how well it was built by the Kojis Sign Company.”
Billhimer said Hard Rock officials tried to get the sign listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s largest guitar. The record keepers nixed the Biloxi guitar because it can not actually be strummed. Undaunted, the Hard Rock invited Dan Guinness of Tampa, Fla., to travel to Biloxi and certify the guitar.
In the spirit of the day, Guinness, peered upward at the Hard Rock guitar and said, “That’s the largest damn guitar I’ve ever seen. Now it’s official.”
The beautiful new property houses a hotel, casino, shops, restaurants, bars and the signature Hard Rock Café. All are punctuated with stunning memorabilia of musical artists, something for which Hard Rock properties all over the world are famous. The collection begins at the front entry where a two-story wall showcases guitars, jeans, dresses and gold records of various notables including Elton John, Bob Seger, Blind Melon and Madonna. Also featured in the entry is a large tapestry made of underwear thrown on concert stages.
Impressive collection reassembled
Don Bernstein of Orlando, Fla., is the man behind the Hard Rock collection. He flew from London to Biloxi to assist with the opening. He brought along the first piece of rock history that began it all, a guitar that once belonged to Eric Clapton that will be on display in Biloxi for 30 days. It’s the first time the relic has been displayed outside London.
“Eric Clapton started the Hard Rock memorabilia collection because he wanted to always have a seat at the Hard Rock Café in London,” Bernstein said. “So, he brought in one of his guitars to mark his spot. That was 35 years ago and that’s what started it all.”
Bernstein builds relationships with artists to acquire the objects, although he said his job is simply taking “this stuff.” He authenticates each piece and makes sure to include new artists along with the seasoned ones.
A special group of artifacts is housed in the Katrina Display. These items, including guitars of Johnny Cash, Ozzy Osborne and Jean Simmons, an Eagles gold record and Eddie van Halen’s red sneakers, were found by area residents and returned to the Hard Rock in the dismal days following the hurricane.
“It’s remarkable,” Bernstein said. “Many of these people had lost everything they owned and had no place to live, but they brought these valuable things back.”
Another special display case holds clothes worn by 3 Doors Down at their Katrina fundraiser concert. The group is from Escatawpa in Jackson County and were the Hard Rock’s first entertainers on July 5.
Taking a tour
Stylistic portraits of three musical icons — Mick Jagger, Bruce Springsteen and Elvis Presley — hang above the hotel check-in desk. Polished wood floors, high ceilings and massive windows overlooking the pool area and the Mississippi Sound give an air of spaciousness and casual elegance. Just off the lobby is the Hard Rock Café where the shop has plenty of Hard Rock Biloxi t-shirts and caps for collectors of the well-known items.
Farther along the lobby, there’s a Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream Shop, Starbuck’s and Ruth’s Chris Steak House. The Taunt boutique is a special touch and offers hot denim, cool tops, dazzling jewelry, hip sunglasses and lingerie. It’s owned and operated by Gulfport clothiers, Ferrell and Rose Alman. Salon Merge is an operation by three of the Coast’s prominent stylists, Chuck Kelly, Todd Boswell and Randy Barris. There’s also Rock Spa, an Aveda concept spa and salon, and Rise, a 12th-floor lounge and nightclub managed by the Gerber Group.
Other restaurants include Satisfaction Buffet, Vibe with a fusion menu and 24/7 Grille with a casual diner atmosphere.
The hotel has 318 rooms and 26 suites outfitted with 42-inch plasma televisions, BOSE CD music systems, touch screen telephones and Aveda bath products.
Almost as an afterthought, there’s a casino. It features all the latest slot machines (1,445), 50 table games and a live poker room. There’s a “Be a Rock Star” progressive slot where the jackpot starts at $150,000.
Hard Rock Biloxi is owned and operated by Premier Entertainment Biloxi LLC.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynn Lofton at email@example.com.