“Spared no expense.”
Those are the famous words uttered by John Hammond throughout Jurassic Park. The creator of the dinosaur theme park turned war zone. And while nobody was disturbed during their bowel movement and eaten like poor Donald Gennaro (the “blood sucking lawyer”) the Official All-Star Cafe was a failure of epic proportions much like the fictional Jurassic Park. The Official All-Star Cafe is an example of the many opulent and outrageous expenditures that captures the 90’s attitude. A decade that is still somehow overshadowed by the 80’s as being the decade of excess. The professional athlete backed restaurant venture was Robert Earl’s vision of a sports bar Versailles that flamed out as spectacularly as it entered the popular culture.
Robert Earl was and is a businessman and restauratuer that specializes in theme restaurants. Early in his career Robert found success by helping build the brand profile of the Hard Rock Cafe franchise and went on to become CEO of the company. In 1991 Robert Earl decided to go out on his own and start Planet Hollywood. Earl was able to receive financial backing from Hollywood titans Bruce Willis, Demi Moore, and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
I’m sure you are familiar with the brand, movie themed restaurants with mediocre over-priced bar food, but decorated with movie paraphernalia such as a T2000 replica, Jim Carey’s canary yellow zoot suit from The Mask, or Pam Anderson’s leather bustier from Barbwire.
After the early success of the Planet Hollywood franchise, in 1995 Earl decided with his next venture he would tackle sports bars. Earl enlisted the help of athletes Joe Montana, Andre Agassi, Monica Seles, Wayne Gretzky, Ken Griffey Jr, Tiger Woods, and Shaquille O’Neal, who was apparently entertaining the idea of Shaq World at the time, to back the project. Not shy from taking a risk Earl decided the best place to open his first Official All-Star Cafe would be in the heart of Times Square. The restaurant/bar was to “span 30,000 feet and feature 40-foot ceilings, mezzanine sky box booths, a center court arena-sized scoreboard, and booths shaped like baseball mitts. In addition to sports memorabilia and equipment once used by the cafe’s celebrity backers, the Official All Star Cafe’s walls are embedded with 70 video monitors, interactive television sets and virtual reality video.” Much like it’s Hollywood counterpart the All-Star Cafe featured sports memorabilia such as the backboard O’Neal collapsed in Phoenix and Andre Agassi’s ponytail.
At the grand opening in December of 1995 Earl literally rolled out the red carpet for his sports star owners as well as 90’s celebrities like Cindy Crawford, John Stamos, Whoopi Goldberg, Evander Holyfield, Charlie Sheen, and Donald Trump. To capture the event Entertainment Tonight sent out the hard hitting Pat O’Brien, of dirty voicemail fame, to get the inside scoop on the new restaurant. O’Brien got Montana to say the ravioli was, “the best around,” and also caught Shaq making a turkey sandwich describing the secret as, “a little bit of mayonnaise. Nice and neat.” Hard hitting journalism to say the least. At the end of the night O’Brien’s assessment of the restuarant, “Well you can take your pick of sports metaphors. You can call it a ‘Slam Dunk’…. ‘Game, Set, and Match’…. ‘He shoots he scores!’ Whatever you want to say, this place looks like a real winner.” Thank you Pat for all of your hard work.
The menu was very similar to the one at every Planet Hollywood. Bland bar food at astronomical prices.
Penne Chicken & Broccoli $21.50
Bowl of Chili $9.50
Lemon Herb Chicken $39.50
After the grand opening in Times Square Earl quickly expanded adding All-Star Cafes in Cancun, Las Vegas, Miami, Atlanta, Australia, San Diego, and Orlando, which would be a part of Walt Disney World and cost $15 million.
With each opening came mounting overhead costs and problems, but more importantly unbelievable stories like “Rare baseball cards on loan from actor Charlie Sheen to the Official All-Star Cafe at Times Square in New York have been stolen. The cards, valued at $170,000 were stolen Wednesday.
I have so many questions about this story, like what cards were they specifically? Were there any David Justice rookie cards? What is their value now? Did Charlie ever get them back? Was Emilio pissed? Did Charlie do blow off the cards or were they in mint condition? Were the cards handed down to him by President Bartlet? Despite my best efforts at deep Googling I could not find any answers.
A fantastic snippet from the Orlando opening, “Agassi, ever charming about being asked more about wife Brooke Shields than tennis, sparked the greatest roar from the estimated 2,000 fans gathered outside when he yelled, ‘I miss her!'”
Another piece of journalistic gold from the Orlando opening involves Cuba Gooding Jr. “Cuba Gooding Jr. was a huge hit, regaling partiers with tales of filming Instinct in Orlando with Anthony Hopkins.” ‘It was an amazing pleasure,’ Gooding said, suddenly very serious. ‘Not only is he a phenomenal actor, he respected me as a man. He taught me about composure and remaining a gentleman.'” Oh Cuba if only I could go back in time and tell you not to make Pearl Harbor, What Dreams May Come, or Chill Factor.
The best story to come out of the Official All-Star Cafe comes from the Miami opening and doubled as the coming out party for a precocious golf prodigy named Tiger Woods. I’ll allow Leslie Doolittle from the Orlando Sentinel to take it from here.
Tiger Woods, heretofore only observed by most of humankind holding golf clubs, smiling sweetly at small children or signing multimillion-dollar endorsement deals, was leading a woman to the dance floor.
Disco made him do it.
And this woman was a mortal one at that. Amid all the pouty-lipped, high-haired, flexed-fanny hopefuls, Tiger had reached out to an ”unknown.” The World’s Most Eligible Bachelor was leading to the dance floor a woman with (gasp) short, straight brunet hair and modest clothing.
Oh, the angst of the wasted peroxide and push-up bras.
But envy quickly gave way to curiosity. The crowd pushed forward.
Tiger seemed rather shy just being off the links. Would he lose his nerve and veer off toward the merchandise counter? Sure, the guy is gorgeous and filthy rich, but could he dance?
The two pressed on, and as the band kicked into ”Do a little dance. Make a little love. Get down tonight,” they reached the floor and turned toward each other.
Then suddenly, before all the slack-jawed, slightly stewed, yet totally hip onlookers, Tiger the Phenom transformed.
His thick curly lashes fluttered, that grin widened, his arms dropped loose and his hips started moving.
He leaned toward his woman, mouthing the words. He eased back, smiling, stepping, gliding, shuffling, moving like a man who didn’t have golf or money on his mind.
His fans cheered like never before as one woman shouted for all:
”You go, boyfriend!”
Alas, it was all over within minutes. TV lights and a crush of onlookers with cameras brought bodyguards racing to escort Tiger and his partner back upstairs.
Could this be the end of our Disco Tiger? We’ll find out in September: Orlando’s Official All Star Cafe opens then, and Tiger tops the guest list.
Leslie you have no idea. This wasn’t the end of Disco Tiger, it was merely the beginning. When the Woods scandal broke I find it to be an absolute travesty that this story was not dug up by some journalist. Be better newspapers. Be better. This does explain a lot though about Tiger. He has clearly always had a thing for less attractive women. He always had sex on the mind and the advent of the text message was the worst thing to happen to his private life. He was doing it right under our noses and we didn’t realize it till his pornographic thoughts were permanently plastered all over the internet.
Tiger’s personal life and The Official All-Star Cafe met their demise in similarly grand fashion. The restaurant franchise saw revenue fall from $96.5 million to $75 million in 1999. They came up short paying lenders $12.5 million in March of 1999 and then missed a $15 million dollar interest payment. Shortly thereafter the professional athlete investors began to pull out asking for their old rackets and sweaty pads back from Earl and the Planet Hollywood Co.
What Earl and company failed to realize was that nobody wants to take their kids to a sports bar. You don’t want neon lights, $8 beers, and kids screaming. You want to be able to go to a dark place called Mickey’s or Kendall’s, stare at the hot shot girls while getting mildly drunk with your friends, and yelling at your team’s poor clock management skills. The last part mostly applies to Eagles fans.
As a 12 year old though I thought the Official All-Star Cafe was the greatest place on the planet, so thanks for the memories Robert.
I also need to thank The Orlando Sentinel, YouTube, Wikipedia, and the agents of the athletes who thought the Official All-Star Cafe was a great investment. And a final thank you to Google because someone had most of the internet scrubbed clean of this debacle the same way the USOC has erased all evidence of R. Kelly’s Olympic performance at the Salt Lake City games.
90’s I miss you.
Watch the YouTube video. I promise you don’t want to miss it.
In case you were wondering yes that is MTV VJ Dan Cortese MCing the opening ceremony. You might also have noticed Luke Perry, Joe Montana, Sir Purr, Andre Agassi, Tiger Woods, Ken Griffey Jr, Monica Seles, Jeff Blake, Jay Buhner, Bruce Willis, and a young Alex Rodriguez.