Hard Rock Tulsa: Rocking Hard in the Heartland

Combining rich Cherokee tribal history with the popular Hard Rock brand has been the perfect recipe for the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Tulsa, Okla.

Before its amazing transformation in 2009, the existing facility, Cherokee Casino Resort, began as a humble bingo parlor, becoming a full-fledged resort complete with golf course in 2001. The expansion to become the Hard Rock, starting in 2007, took just two years.

This rockin’ resort is owned by Cherokee Nation Entertainment. Wanting to solidify their regional market and appeal to more international travelers, they turned to Thalden Boyd Emery Architects to do the job. “This property is remarkably successful and just gets better every year,” commented Dave Stewart, CEO of Cherokee Nation Entertainment.

The property still strongly reflects the Cherokee culture, using Cherokee colors in areas such as the carpet and tile designs. Chief Boyd, AIA, Partner for Thalden • Boyd • Emery Architects, explained: “The Cherokee culture is the primary influence on the project. It is historically themed around early Cherokee culture prior to the coming of the Europeans and the Spanish.”

The resort’s exterior design is a contemporary interpretation of Tulsa’s art deco architecture. Being the only Hard Rock property in the Heartland, the uniqueness of its location was a fundamental design consideration. “The faceted glass spanning between the sharp vertical buttresses on the top floor of the hotel creates a dramatic statement from all sides and celebrates the new tower’s prominence on the horizon,” noted David Nejelski, director of design for Thalden • Boyd • Emery.

Guests’ sensory experience begins in the lobby. The entry provides a dramatic sense of arrival in the form of a grand rotunda. Suspended above is the focal point of the space, the familiar Hard Rock globe. Song lyrics scroll overhead, a nod to the Hard Rock brand and culture of music.

On the resort’s gaming floor, art deco is out the door, as the area’s curved organic forms flow through the space. “Polished stainless steel, black leather and dark woods provide a backdrop of edgy sophistication to the rock and roll memorabilia displayed throughout,” Nejelski said.
Center Bar

But the Cherokee culture makes more appearances in the hotel tower. “The standard guestroom palette was based on the traditional Cherokee colors used in a contemporary design with high contrast and color saturation,” commented Thalden • Boyd • Emery Architects’ Senior Interior Designer Alicia Nicolay. “Specialty high-end features include a custom headboard with ebony veneer, a custom bed throw featuring a chevron pattern in a bold black and white print, and custom bathroom case goods with recessed lighting.”

Rising higher, on the 17th floor are the Hard Rock suites. These feature unusual configurations using draperies as walls and opening up the floor plan. Bold neutral colors, contrasting patterns and saturated accents add to the Hard Rock feel.

And at the top of the hotel tower is McGills on 19, one of the finest restaurants in Tulsa. This space includes soaring ceilings with floor-to-ceiling chevron windows. “Some patrons will even be able to experience dining set within the chevron windows where we have custom table tops placed for a high-end view,” Nicolay explained.

But one area of the resort—the Center Bar—is home to pulsating beats, hot colors and even an 80-foot-long frozen bar top. “Stepping up to the bar, you will ultimately feel like you are in a different location with the high-energy sound system. The custom features include an ice bar and back bar with back light panels and upholstered leather walls,” Nicolay noted.

After the $155 million expansion, the completed project boasts 350 luxury hotel rooms and suites; more than 125,000 square feet of gaming space including 2,300 electronic games and 70 poker and table games; five dining venues, and a Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar & Grill; five nightclubs and entertainment venues, a Hard Rock Las Vegas-inspired swimming pool, and a 2,500-seat Hard Rock Hotel & Casino event center opening in August 2010.

The venture that brings together a unique blend of Cherokee culture, Oklahoma’s rich musical history and classic rock and roll already has had its fair share of attention. Oklahoma magazine named the property “Best Place to Place Your Bets,” and Golfweek magazine recognized its 170- acre course as one of the top five public access courses in Oklahoma.

Everyone agrees that this is one hot property.

Owner: Cherokee Nation
Operator: Cherokee Nation Entertainment (CNE)
Architect: Thalden • Boyd • Emery Architects
Interior Designer: Thalden • Boyd • Emery Architects
Contractor: Flintco Construction