After 25 years in business on the 16th Street Mall, Hard Rock Cafe closed its doors for good at the only Colorado location earlier this year. But little do most people know, another Hard Rock Cafe still exists in the Centennial State, just not the familiar national chain restaurant most are thinking of.

Robert Claypool/Unsplash
Robert Claypool/Unsplash

Located right in the center of Empire, Colorado is the restaurant regarded as actually being the country's original Hard Rock Cafe. This American-style bistro opened in 1934 and is not part of the Hard Rock Cafe, Inc. chain of theme restaurants. Those came along in London in 1971 – a full 37 years after the Colorado diner had already been dishing up delicious food to customers.

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According to the Clear Creek County Tourism Bureau, the original Hard Rock Cafe was established to predominantly serve local "hard rock" miners in the area - thus how the restaurant got its name. Miners also used the building at 18 Park Avenue as a bunkhouse after long days of working underground.

Empire became part of Colorado's early mining history when gold was discovered in 1860 and the first town government was under the Union Mining Company.

Google Maps/Canva
Google Maps/Canva

The building that houses the cafe was constructed in 1898. In addition to the restaurant, it also currently includes the Guanella Pass Brewery Taproom, Empire's town hall, an antique store, and a police station.

Unfortunately, when the Hard Rock chain started to become more popular across the world, they had a problem with the original Hard Rock Cafe's title. The Colorado cafe was eventually sued over its name, with the chain restaurant claiming it was a copyright infringement. As a result of the lawsuit, Colorado's original Hard Rock Cafe is not allowed to advertise beyond the state.

Surprisingly though, that action has not been a problem as far as continuing to draw patrons inside to eat. Millions of travelers take the route along Colorado's Highway 40 each year, passing right by the quaint restaurant.

While the other Colorado Hard Rock closed up shop, this iconic restaurant is still making meals to this day. Visitors are welcome to stop into the Empire establishment to grab a bite to eat or check out the historic building, which also has a spot on the National Historic Register.
The town of Empire owns and maintains the century-old building in which the charming eatery is located.

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