CNN  — 

Sitting at opposite ends of London’s Park Lane, it’s less than a mile between the world’s first Hard Rock Cafe and the UK’s first ever Hard Rock Hotel – but it’s a distance of 48 years.

When Americans Peter Morton and Issac Tiggrett opened a US-style burger joint at 150 Park Lane back in 1971, the Hard Rock Cafe embraced a hippy ethos that was in the spirit of the times: “Love all, serve all.” “Take time to be kind.” “Save the planet.” (We’re still working on that one).

And the original cafe was for a while a genuinely hip spot to be.

The first live set was an impromptu gig by Paul McCartney and Wings. Carole King wrote a song about the place “where the spirit flows so free.” And the collection of music memorabilia for which the chain is best known began when Eric Clapton sent over his guitar so it could mark out his spot at the bar.

Rock relics

Half a century and more than 180 cafes, 28 hotels and 11 casinos later, Hard Rock has matured into a global, distinctly uncool, brand. It might be dorky and touristy, but it sure is popular.

Its mix of music memorabilia museum and hospitality experience has the solid, enduring appeal of a Madame Tussauds: Rock relics, from jackets to spandex leggings, bring larger-than-life stars down to human scale, and us a little closer.

London’s first ever Hard Rock Hotel opens April 30, and CNN Travel was invited ahead of opening for an exclusive look around.

‘Elegant chic’

Yellow upholstered benches in the main dining room.

Located in the former Cumberland Hotel, an art deco building beside London landmark Marble Arch, its 900 rooms have in the past hosted stars including Buddy Holly, Jimi Hendrix, Diana Ross and Stevie Wonder.

This is a very different world from the burgers ‘n’ blue jeans feel of the typical Hard Rock Cafe.

The huge, 340-cover restaurant and cocktail bar is in tasteful shades of teal and mustard, with soft leather banquettes, a statement circular bar, and a stage for live performances.

“Elegant chic,” is how Andrew Tivers, Hard Rock Hotel London’s head of marketing and communications, describes it, as he shows us proudly around the space.

“Because of our presence in London we have quite a lot of corporate customers, so we have to offer a product that’s appealing to a leisure traveler and a business traveler.”

Local flavor

Giovanni Taliaferro, director of memorabilia design for Hard Rock International, is in the cafe overseeing the installation of a framed Jean Paul Gaultier jacket, worn by George Michael in the video for “I Want Your Sex.”

“What I’m trying is do is that with every piece, even if the artist isn’t necessarily from England, there’s some sort of tie,” he explains.

So in the cafe there’s former Beatle McCartney’s left-handed guitar, The Who frontman Roger Daltrey’s microphone and a feathered jacket worn by The Killers’ Brandon Flowers at a Hard Rock Calling concert in nearby Hyde Park.

Then there are the blink-and-you-might-miss-them rarities, like Sex Pistol Sid Vicious’s passport document and a letter from Buddy Holly to his parents, written on Cumberland Hotel stationery.

Gleaming silver male and female mannequins are dotted around the space, waiting to be dressed in outfits ranging from Rita Ora’s swimsuit to Taylor Swift’s lace dress.

They’re above average height but hips and shoulders are childlike-slim – essential for fitting into the petite clothing of dainty celebs.

Deluxe and Rock Royalty

Rock Royalty Suites have their own lounge area.

There are two grades of accommodation, Deluxe and Rock Royalty, with Rock Royalty including VIP check-in and access to the glitzy Rock Royalty lounge, with its mirrored feature walls and velvet seats.

Music-themed perks on offer include personalized playlists, record players and vinyl, and the opportunity to reserve a Fender guitar and amp for your own jamming session (and yes, it comes with headphones).

The mood of the room design is “business hotel with a twist.” The color scheme is dark blue and red – a conservative nod to the British theme – with subtle touches such as guitars embossed on the linen and a pop art-style cushion with “London” emblazoned on it.

There is original artwork in each room which the hotel describes as being “inspired” by the photography of Terry O’Neill. In the show room, it’s a painting of Camden legend Amy Winehouse.

One of the quirkiest touches is the mirrors marked out with celebrity heights, all the way from Ariana Grande (5 ft. 3) to Snoop Dogg (6 ft. 4).

Red buses and royals

The hotel’s interior design and memorabilia collection has been thoughtfully curated to reflect the London that many of the capital’s 30 million annual visitors has come to see.

It’s a nostalgic, cozy London of red buses and royals, of punks and Piccadilly, as much removed from the capital’s grimy heart as the triple-glazed, sound-proofed rooms are from the heaving crowds of Oxford Street below.

While the website proclaims London as “the birthplace of the miniskirt, punk, garage and grime,” when it comes to homegrown heroes the memorabilia collection is more Ed Sheeran than Skepta.

The brand’s definition of “hard rock” has expanded from white dude legends (and Hendrix) to include modern pop. That’s why women – the Spice Girls, Lady Gaga, Nicki Minaj and more – are now getting a look in, but it’s hardly representative of the modern city’s true diversity. But perhaps that’s not really the point.

The show must go on

Today, hard rock is dad rock, and like the baby boomers whose musical icons the chain celebrates, Hard Rock is cushioned by many years of comfortable financial success and doesn’t plan to give up its spot to edgy, millennial upstarts.

The hotel’s piece de resistance, which will rightfully sit in pride of place in the hotel lobby, is the piano from Freddie Mercury’s childhood home. “It’s where he learned to play. It’s very instrumental in his personal history,” explains Taliaferro.

The Hard Rock brand have lost its hip edge a long time ago, but like the “Bohemian Rhapsody” film – derided by critics, loved by fans – Hard Rock Hotel London has mass appeal and is a lot of fun.

For its core audience, and they are legion, they are the champions. No time for losers.

Hard Rock Hotel London, Great Cumberland Pl, Marylebone, London W1H 7DL; +44 800330 8089.