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Hard Rock Cafe: Styx, Joey Fatone, Nicky Hilton and more crash grand opening

13

January

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It is impossible to say whether Wednesday marked the first time classic rock mainstays Styx, boy band alumnus Joey Fatone and tabloid DJ Samantha Ronson had ever shared a stage. We'd like to think it was.

This much we do know for sure: The official grand opening of Tampa's Hard Rock Cafe marked the first chance for the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino to prove that a chain restaurant best known for hamburgers and T-shirts can still draw celebrities to a red carpet.

As soon as Fatone, above, christened the Cafe in official Hard Rock fashion -- by smashing a guitar -- it was officially open for business. And though the star wattage on hand was a little dimmer than expected, the event was still enough to create a red carpet buzz the likes of which Tampa hasn't seen since Super Bowl XLIII.

"It's a night and day difference," former Tampa Bay Buccaneer Ryan Nece said of the Cafe, formerly known as Floyd's nightclub. "No disrespect to Floyd's, which was a great little venue, and everybody had fun, but this is a step up. I know everybody's got to be excited about having this Cafe here."

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Among the celebrities who walked the red carpet: Hotel heiress (and sister of Paris) Nicky Hilton (above), The Hills' Stephanie Pratt and model and TV personality Ali Landry, each of whom said it was their first trip to Tampa.

Nice timing, what with the 40-degree weather and all. The Hard Rock had to set up space heaters along the red carpet, and offered coffee and hot chocolate to the three dozen or so reporters and photographers elbowing for space on the scene.

"And I show up without a coat -- zero coat," said Landry, who nonetheless walked the red carpet in a shimmery miniskirt. "I have a light sweater, but that's it. I'm going to stay at the Hard Rock the whole time, just here and the airport. Hopefully this'll be the longest I'm outside."

Samantha Ronson -- who's been major tabloid fodder this week thanks to her troublesome dog and even more troublesome ex-girlfriend -- made a quick, businesslike entrance, answering no questions and making no statements apart from a terse "The Hard Rock is awesome." Onstage inside the Cafe, she did her standard Sam Ronson thing -- scratching clubby hip-hop beats into classic rock and pop songs -- for about an hour and a half.

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There were a few athletes in the house, from wrestlers Brian Knobbs and Sean "X-Pac" Waltman to current and former Bucs such as Josh Freeman, Chris Hovan and Ian Beckles. Knobbs and Hovan even traded a few WWE-caliber wrestling maneuvers on the red carpet.

Once inside, most of the celebrities congregated in a VIP area. Fatone and Hilton's crews hung in a booth near the back -- the one beneath the Jerry Schiff bass guitar, if you're curious.

Among the red carpet no-shows: Jersey Shore's Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino and New York Yankee Derek Jeter, who we were told was a late scratch from the lineup (though we did hear his girlfriend, actress Minka Kelly, was spotted in Tampa Wednesday).

Before the red carpet got underway, Styx, playing in an unusually intimate setting, treated an enthusiastic crowd of VIPs to a set full of hits (Lady, Come Sail Away, Renegade). A few rows of what looked like Seminole Tribe members were front and center.

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While it may sound odd to hold a full rock concert inside an honest-to-goodness restaurant, the acoustics were actually fine -- a promising sign for casino officials who hope to book more shows at the Cafe in the months to come.

"We had Sister Hazel at New Year's, and it was kind of a test run," said casino president John Fontana. "But this show was the first time we'd really set it up for a full production, and it went really well. You go in with strong ideas about what to do, and some of it works, and some of it doesn't. But we're real close on a lot of it, so I'm excited. We're going to do some huge, huge shows here."

But that's in the future. For one night, at least, the Hard Rock was about enjoying the here and now.

"At some point, the train's on the tracks, and you just gotta enjoy the ride," Fontana said. "Our regular guests are having a great time, and we have a bunch of celebrity guests having a great time. That's what it's about."

-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*. Photos: Luis Santana, tbt*.

Click here for more celebrity and party photos from the Hard Rock Cafe Tampa grand opening party!

[Last modified: Thursday, January 13, 2011 10:18am]

    

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