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Sunday, October 21, 2007


A return to the Rock and Roll Cafe

Back in August I made a few disparaging remarks on this blog about Mark Lindsay's Rock and Roll Cafe, a new addition to the Hollywood district. The post was picked up by Jack Bogdanski, resulting in a small debate on his blog. This led to someone presumably affiliated with the restaurant calling me out for my "errors."

I responded and have yet to hear back from Mr and/or Ms. "Anonymous." I vowed to return to the restaurant and give it a proper review. Here it is:

Nostalgia: a wistful desire to return in thought or in fact to a former time in one's life, to one's home or homeland, or to one's family and friends; a sentimental yearning for the happiness of a former place.

I was too young to ever eat a burger at Yaws. I was born a generation too late to catch the waves of Paul Revere & the Raiders' heyday or meet anyone underneath the downtown Meier and Frank's iconic clock. To enjoy the Rock and Roll Cafe it's necessary to go with at least some nostalgia for these things and places. Otherwise, you'll wander in, turn a blind eye to the artifacts on the walls and start focusing on the lackluster menu, the overpriced cocktails and the poor service.

I took my mother with me last Sunday for dinner at the cafe. She grew up in Portland and was a big enough fan of Paul Revere & the Raiders as a teenager to draw pictures of the band's lead singer in her sketchbook back in the '60s. Her and a crowd consisting almost entirely of people over the age of 50 seemed to love everything about the place. For me, however, it was like walking into a museum filled with things I don't care about that serves spendy fast food.

I ordered a Yaws burger with cheese. By the standards of Yaws, which I'm told was once a beloved fast food joint in NE Portland, it was great. It was juicy and the secret sauce was damn tasty. I'd compare it to the burgers at an In-N-Out franchise down south. Now there's just one problem with this: a cheeseburger and fries runs right around $3.00 at In-N-Out. At the Rock and Roll Cafe they cost upwards of $7.00. Sure, they're served in more opulent surroundings but there's no getting around the fact that the cafe charges too much for way too little.

The chocolate milkshake I ordered was much better. $3.50 bought me more than I could drink and any other burger joint in town will charge you around the same price for a lot less. Unfortunately, it didn't show up at the table until I was halfway through my burger, a common complaint I've seen in other reviews of the cafe. For some reason, the staff just can't get the drinks out before the food. It also took forever to get the check.

In addition to the old Meier and Frank clock, which hangs over the front door, the place is covered in Mark Lindsay memorabilia ranging from shirtless photos to gold records. It's more than a little disconcerting given his involvement with the cafe (the man himself hosts a radio show from a booth attached to main dining room on Saturday nights). The place at least looks like an over-the-hill rocker's free standing tribute to his own inflated ego. Supposedly, the cafe includes tributes to other area rock bands but the only examples I could find were record covers on the ceiling over the bar. There's also an Oregon Music Hall of Fame somewhere on site but I couldn't find it after a short search. We got there around 7 and I figured it was closed for the night.

There's little to bring me back. The meal I had was good but not great and too spendy for what I received. The menu includes more elaborate items like the "Funky Chicken" plate ($15.95) or the "Let's Go Surfin' Now" grilled salmon ($23.95) but if I'm going to spend that kind of money, I'd rather do it in a place that doesn't feel like a reheated Hard Rock Cafe. The Rock and Roll Cafe is the restaurant equivalent of paying $70 to catch an act like The Who in concert. Sure, they still put on a pretty good show but there's no escaping the fact that Pete Townshend can barely pull off a bunny-hop these days and the band's going to insist on playing their new material for at least 1/3 of the set. You just can't go back, ya' know?

But Mark Lindsay's Rock and Roll Cafe wasn't meant for someone like me. I'm hardly in their target demographic. I'm sure if one of the members of Sleater-Kinney ever builds a place like this 25 years from now to wallow in the good ol' days and serve Voodoo Doughnuts alongside Dots-style french fries I'll be drunk enough on nostalgia to overlook the prices and the lousy service.

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