Hard Rock Cafe tangles with famous Beatles venue the Cavern Club

Ob-Law-di, Ob-Law-da

“It is absurd for a billiards room in Boston to be passed off as having anything whatsoever to do with the history and heritage of music’s most famous club in the world,” says Dave Jones, director of Liverpool’s Cavern Club, referring to a poolroom at the Beantown Hard Rock Cafe that also calls itself the Cavern Club. Hard Rock Cafe International, Inc. has the U.S. trademark on the Cavern name, but the British location claims the U.S. monolith is violating certain terms by including imagery and items that reference their venue, which is celebrated for hosting the Beatles nearly 300 times. Thus, Jones and the Liverpool location’s co-owners are taking Hard Rock to court.

This is where you can insert your own “she sues you, yeah yeah yeah” or “happiness is a warm lawyer” joke.

The Cavern Club’s legal action against Hard Rock, filed in the latter’s headquarter city of Orlando, is “basically an appeal” of a 2011 rejection by U.S. officials of Cavern’s application to nullify Hard Rock’s trademark. The entire fracas stretches back much further than that, though: problems began in 1994, the year Hard Rock won the legal right to use the name “Cavern Club” in North America. Upstate New York attorney Paul Rapp, who is representing the Liverpudlians, got involved with the case in 2007.

“These things just seem to take forever,” Rapp says. “There was a cooling period [after the 2011 strike down] where the parties were trying to work things out, but that fell apart in February.”

Dave Jones and his partner Bill Heckle filed their 2011 suit against Hard Rock in Nevada, where a Las Vegas Hard Rock location offers a small event room that also boasts the name of the Cavern Club. According to their most recent press release, John Lennon’s half-sister Julia Baird also has a controlling interest in their Club.

While the Las Vegas Cavern is more or less just a lounge, the Boston Cavern hawks assorted merchandise that bears a rendering of the British Cavern Club’s brick exterior, topped off with a pair of Beatles boots sitting on a bass drum (the Boston space also hosts memorabilia from Aerosmith, Nirvana, Donna Summer and Van Halen, “none of whom ever played at the real Cavern,” Jones notes). Hard Rock is supposed to have a deal with Cavern that operates like our SeaWorld and the Australian marine park Sea World – they can coexist so long as they don’t reference each other.

“The Cavern in Liverpool is a historic British landmark and, for music, a world heritage site,” Jones notes, adding, “The Beatles played at the Cavern 292 times. They didn’t play once at a billiards bar in Boston.”

Indeed, the Fab Four first whipped up a frenzy playing Mathew Street’s most famous venue, but it’s worth noting that the Cavern Jones et al have owned and operated since 1991 is not the same exact Cavern the Mop Tops haunted. The original club was shuttered in May 1973 and filled in to make way for a subway loop. In 1984, footballer Tommy Smith took over the property and rebuilt the Cavern slightly further underground than the preceding location. Still, the Cavern of today exists on or in 75 percent of the original club’s site, and many big artists still pass through. No less than Jake Bugg, the Wanted, the Arctic Monkeys and Oasis have brought their acts to the house that John, Paul, George, Ringo, Pete Best and Stu Sutcliffe figuratively built.

The Seminole Tribe of Native Americans has operated Hard Rock Cafe International since 2007. Heckle knows their chairman Chief Jim Billie is himself a musician and has offered Billie “a gig where the Beatles played” if this whole trademark mess can be sorted out.

“If Chief Jim Billie instructs the Hard Rock to try and see it our way, not only will right be done, but we’ll put him and his band on at the Cavern Club as part of the deal,” Heckle says.

Representatives for Hard Rock told Orlando Weekly they have no comment at this time.

Meanwhile, attorneys for both sides are preparing for an Orlando-based trial in November. Motions for one final attempt at a settlement are due in June. The Brits, who currently license their Cavern Club name to spots in Australia and Argentina, are rumored to want to open an “official” Cavern spot in the U.S. if this all goes in their favor.

“There’s interest there, yeah,” Rapp says. “[They’d like to] open an official Cavern somewhere in North America.”

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