Food / DiningStoriesWeird & Wild

THE VEGAS NAME GAME: Round 4

Why is Planet Hollywood not at Planet Hollywood? Ask Hard Rock.

Round Three of THE VEGAS NAME GAME ran Caesars Palace through the wringer for the stupid-ass naming of its new conference center, which isn’t even at Caesars Palace. Now we look at another “not there” oddity – Planet Hollywood Restaurant. And a hard-rocking copycat.

These days, most people are unaware that Planet Hollywood Resort is named after a chain of restaurants. As sad and amazing as that is, Planet Hollywood restaurants were once a THING. Nearly every major city had one, much like Hard Rock Cafes and Harley Davidson shops. Built around the novelty of movie memorabilia, the Planet Hollywood restaurant chain was a vanity project from future Expendables costars Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis, and Arnold Schwarzeneggar.

The Caesars Palace outlet for Planet Hollywood opened in 1994. With double the seating of other stores, the Vegas location quickly became its highest grosser. Alas, within three years, the company had reached a point of oversaturation and was bleeding $40 million annually. Celebrity investors bailed, and by the year 2000, Planet Hollywood Restaurants filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. A year later, they filed Chapter 11 for a second time. Clearly, the chain was doomed, and as of now, Forum Shops is one of only six remaining outlets.

In 1997, the thirty-one-year-old Aladdin Hotel Casino was imploded. A brand new Aladdin was opened on the same land in August of 2000. Thirteen months later it filed for Chapter 11 and was sold to a partnership of Planet Hollywood International and Starwood Hotels. The idea of a failing restaurant franchise purchasing a bankrupt hotel-casino seems absolutely ludicrous, doesn’t it?

During the Aladdin acquisition, Planet Hollywood Restaurant hung tight to its spot at Caesars Palace. This happened despite friction between the restaurant and Caesars Palace. PHo had accused CP of sabotage when its famous outdoor sign mysteriously disappeared. Then came the lawsuits….simultaneous with the purchase of Aladdin. It’s all very confusing.

Oddly, there were never any plans to open a Planet Hollywood Restaurant inside Planet Hollywood Resort. What customers eventually got instead was Cafe Hollywood, a direct knockoff of its own product. Weird, huh?

Aladdin was officially renamed Planet Hollywood Resort in 2007, long after its namesake had faded into obscurity. Within two years, the resort had defaulted on its loans, and by 2010, Planet Hollywood Resort was $870 million in debt. That’s when Harrah’s Entertainment (now Caesars Entertainment) swooped in to take over operations…and some of the existing debt.

While the hotel and adjacent Miracle Mile Shops seem to have done nicely in the ensuing years, a “For Sale” sign is rumored to be looming once more. Caesars CEO Tom Reeg denied in February 2021 that PHo was being dumped, then flip-flopped nine months later with the admission that “something” was about to go. Many are already saying “bye-bye, Planet Hollywood Resort.”

As for the OTHER Planet Hollywood…yes, it’s still open, but mostly forgotten. Several years ago it was drastically downsized and relocated to the second level of Forum Shop’s 2004 annex. The restaurant’s iconic rotating globe was also removed last October and shipped to the Neon Museum. Which can only mean one thing…. bye-bye, Planet Hollywood Restaurant.

As bizarre as the “resort vs. restaurant” situation is, it’s happened more than once. The former Hard Rock Hotel on Paradise Road and Harmon Avenue once had a free-standing Hard Rock Cafe out front. The cafe was actually there first, opening in 1990. It featured a 45-foot sign in the shape of a Gibson Les Paul guitar.

Hard Rock Hotel-Casino rose up around the cafe and opened in 1995. It featured its own guitar sign, the world’s largest Fender Stratocaster, which became famous after its appearance in the ’97 film Con Air. The resort grew in size and popularity, eventually becoming notorious after its recurring Rehab Pool Party was documented on a reality TV show. Nightclubs like Vanity and Body English combined with music venues Vinyl and The Joint to raise its profile even higher.

Hard Rock opened a second Las Vegas cafe in 2009. Located on the Strip at Showcase Mall, the three-story venue features retail, dining, and Hard Rock Live, a high-tech performance space for concerts and shows. As was the case with themed restaurants like Planet Hollywood, the cafes suffered a downturn in popularity. The Harmon Avenue cafe was closed on New Year’s Eve 2016. It sat empty for several years before being demolished, and the Les Paul guitar sign was sent to the Neon Museum (does this story sound familiar?).

Just like Planet Hollywood Restaurants, the Hard Rock Hotel fell out of favor and onto hard times. There were changes in ownership, lawsuits, extensive financial troubles, and a notice of foreclosure. The property was sold to Virgin Hotels in 2018, closed in February of 2020, and the massive guitar sign was removed one month later.

The entire resort underwent extensive renovations and was reopened as the much more sedate Virgin Hotels Las Vegas on March 25, 2021. Unfortunately, the new Virgin is already floundering badly. To make things worse, it just announced a move to institute daily resort fees ($45.99 plus tax) despite boasting a rare “No Resort Fees, Free Parking” commitment from Day One.

You might think that’s the end of the story, but Hard Rock Hotel Las Vegas will be returning, albeit in a different location. The Mirage was purchased in December 2021 from MGM Resorts by Hard Rock International for over one billion dollars. There are plans to remove the iconic Mirage volcano and erect a massive guitar-shaped hotel tower in its place. It’s unclear if the Strip’s newly rebranded Hard Rock Hotel will include a Hard Rock Cafe. But there’s always the one next to MGM Grand…for now.

Don’t stop playing now….you’re so close to the end! Round 5 begins here.

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