All that rock
under the Roof of a
Modernist Building
Hard Rock® Cafe opens its doors
at the most iconic rock venue in Yerevan

Sketch by Ara Harutyunyan
Pushkin Street, located between Abovyan and Nalbandyan streets, is one of the few surviving corners of old Yerevan. And even though Abovyan Street is one of the most popular and busy tourist routes in the city, Pushkin Street, which is reachable by simply turning right from the Sakharov Square, gives the vibe of a cozy nook far from the traffic and the city buzz.
A historic landmark is located on that street, representing the architecture of the last 100 years. Standing at the center, and modestly set back from the pavement line, the multistoried building of the Journalists' Union of Armenia dates back to the Armenian modernist period, with an open public space in the front. The pyramid-shaped building of the conference hall of the Union, which has served as a music hall for the past decades, will soon transform into a world-class venue for music lovers.
Photo: Armenpress News Agency Archive.
The building
This unique building, with an individually designed panel block structure model erected here in the early 1970s, is the work of architect Martin Tovmasyan and Engineer Ruben Badalyan.

"The interference into a historic environment requires a certain degree of courage. Yet, I must say, the building has integrated into the environment in a remarkably smooth way and does not contradict the overall landscape in any way. Modernism was an attempt to meddle and to intertwine with the existing urban pattern in the course of time. It tried to shape a bridge between epochs while keeping its own character. From that perspective, this environment is a success," says art critic and curator Ruben Arevshatyan.

Arevshatyan underlines that the area in front of the building is an inviting place to form a public space. The dome on the left stands out from the rest of the surroundings. "Tovmasyan, who got professional education in the pre-1955 period, was a pure modernist in terms of his views on urban planning and architecture," Arevshatyan says.

Arevshatyan says that the apartments in the residential building, where the future residents started to move in from 1974, are both spacious and comfortable. Among the residents are many famous intellectuals, including writer Hrant Matevosyan, architect of the building Martin Tovmasyan, as well as sculptor Ara Harutyunyan.
The first two stories of the building as well as the conference hall in the basement were designated for the Journalists' Union. The foyer with a pyramid-shaped dome served as an entrance to the conference hall.

Architect Martin Tovmasyan has had a major contribution in Yerevan, where he has authored the multistoried building of the former Orbita store on the crossing of Amiryan Street and Mashtots Avenue, the planning of the South-Western districts of A-1, A-2, A-3, as well as the District 58 in Gyumri, built after the 1988 earthquake, and the general plan for the center of Stepanakert.

Arevshatyan says the buildings of the Green Theater, the seaport station, residential buildings, and other structures by Martin Tovmasyan in Baku are among the best examples of the 1960s architectural heritage.

Engineer Ruben Badalyan was the first in the 1960s Armenia to introduce modernistic construction approaches in residential and industrial structures. The multistoried building design, known as the Badalyan buildings, has also been used in construction in Moldova, the Northern Caucasus region of Russia, and in Central Asian republics.
The Muse
In 1978, four years following the exploitation of the building's residential section and the premises of the Journalists' Union, Ara Harutyunyan, the sculptor of Mother Armenia, which is now the symbol of the capital Yerevan, created a decorative sculpture, the Muse, now mounted on the wall of the building by Gevorg Kochar.

Liana Akhinova, the sculptor's granddaughter, recalls some of the most recognizable sculptures in Yerevan by Ara Harutyunyan (including those of Komitas and Sayat-Nova), and points out that people most often find it difficult to name the author of a certain sculpture. She also says that the capital has only few sculptural compositions devoted to women.

"Male characters are overrepresented in Yerevan, even when those characters are carved against delicate architectural compositions made of pink tufa stone. Mother Armenia is the main monument embodying a female character; it leaves the impression of a brutal character, whose femininity is revealed only at a closer look. And yet, there are only a few female characters in the capital. So, from that perspective, the Muse is one of those few, who emphasize femininity and lightness," Liana Akhinova says.

The sculptor's granddaughter says Harutyunyan's wife, Julia Poghosyan, has been the model of the Muse. Legend has it, writer Hrant Matevosyan would start the mornings with a welcoming "Hello, Julia!" from his balcony overlooking the sculpture.
Sculptor Ara Harutyunyan in front of a plaster model of the Muses in his studio.
Photo courtesy of Ara Harutyunyan's family.
Ara Harutyunyan with his wife Julia.
Photo courtesy of Ara Harutyunyan's family.
Decorative sculpture "Muse" 1978, copper, chasing.
Photo courtesy of Ara Harutyunyan's family.
The Rock Club
In the 1970s and 80s the first two floors were the place for numerous gatherings for discussions, congresses, and exhibitions. In the second half of the 1990s the jazz club Downtown opened its doors in the hall; the rock club on Moskovyan Street, where the popular Vostan Hayots rock band used to perform, moved here in 1999.

"When the property owner of the club increased the rent fee, Artur Malkhasyan found a new place for the rock club in the Journalists' Union premises. The concerts were organized in the entrance hall. Of course, this place was larger than the Stop club and could fit more people, but it lacked the cozy ambience of the former place. We played for a couple of months, and had the presentation of our second album here, as far as I can remember," says band lead of the Vostan Hayots, Davit Musheghyan.
The presentation of "Vostan Hayots" band's "Chimeras" album at Rock Club.
Photo courtesy of Davit Mushegyan.
The presentation of "Vostan Hayots" band's "Chimeras" album at Rock Club.
Photo courtesy of Davit Mushegyan.
The presentation of "Vostan Hayots" band's "Chimeras" album at Rock Club.
Photo courtesy of Davit Mushegyan.
There were just a few clubs in Yerevan in the early 2000s, and the rock club was the only place where musicians of both older and younger generations had a place to perform. Davit Musheghyan was the one who introduced the young Kings' Cross band to the club before he moved to Moscow.

Suren Sargsyan, the founder of the Armenian Center for American Studies, was the bass guitarist for the Kings' Cross band. Starting from 2001, the band performed almost regularly on Friday nights, where, Suren recalls, he would rush to join the band while dressed more appropriately due to his day job at the presidential administration. The club was a favorite spot for university student fans of rock music.

"Now that I compare the early days of the club with later periods I can say that the number of young people who were showing interest in rock music had been growing steadily. This was a gathering place for young musicians, who would swap instruments and share all that was new in the industry. This turned into a place where new bands were born, and that was because here they would find a permanent platform with growing numbers of audiences, who were here to listen to their music," Suren recalls.
"Kings' Cross" band at Rock Club.
Photo courtesy of Hayk Gyolchanyan
"Kings' Cross" band at Rock Club.
Photo courtesy of Hayk Gyolchanyan
"Kings' Cross" band at Rock Club.
Photo courtesy of Henry Karagyozyan
The Kings' Cross played popular rock covers; in a later period, the Alter Ego band was formed to play music by Edgar Barseghyan. Rodeo and Bambir were among those who performed here.

"In fact, the instruments and the equipment, in general, were of poor quality, prices for rental were high, equipment would go out of order too often and, unlike our days, it seemed almost impossible to buy proper instruments. But we were trying to get the quality despite those very scarce means, and would inspire bidding musicians," Suren says.

The tickets would sell for 500 to 1000 AMD. Part of the raised money would be used to pay the musicians and for the rental of equipment. The ticket price also included a small bottle of beer. Artur Malkhasyan, better known as Malkhas, was the organizer of the concerts at the club. Artur had no musical background, but was a big fan of rock music and would support young musicians. Since 2004, following Artur's untimely death in an accident, many people had tried to take up the organizational matters in the club, but their attempts have so far proved to be unproductive.
Friday evenings at the Rock club.
Photo courtesy of Edgar Barseghyan
Avant-Garde folk club
The Avant-Garde folk club founded in the end of 2003 rented the same foyer of the hall, but the numerous student audiences were now replaced by the fans of Arto Tunçboyacian's Armenian Navy Band, preferring jazz and jazz-folk to the rock music.

TV journalist Davit Muradyan found a second job at the club as a host and as its public relations manager. "Besides organizing performances of local musicians regularly held at the club, the Avant-Garde also organized two festivals inviting musicians from other countries. Those were the two times the larger hall was used. The rest of the events were held in the foyer at full house," Davit recalls.

The ticket prices to the Armenian Navy Band were higher compared to those of other bands. The Time Report under Armen Hyusnunts, as well the Reincarnation, then a punk band, would also perform at the club. Jam sessions were organized regularly giving the floor to many music students, who are now well-known performers. Starting from 2008-2009 the place has been known as the Vitamin club (comedy).

Hard Rock Cafe® Yerevan
The hall of the Journalists' Union will appear in a completely new image in 2022. After four years of searching for a proper premise, the Hard Rock Cafe® Yerevan will open its doors in Armenia and will feature a cafe, a concert hall, and Hard Rock Cafe® souvenir shop.

The first Hard Rock® Cafe had opened in London, founded by two American friends in search of their favorite American burgers in Great Britain's capital. To attract more young people to the burger house, the two Americans came up with the idea of naming it after the cafe pictured on the cover image of The Door's 1969 album. Isaac Tigrett and Peter Morton founded the Hard Rock® Cafe in London in 1971. Its logo was created by Alan Aldridge, the legendary artist, and illustrator behind symbols of the 1970s and the covers of The Beatles albums.

The cafe has now expanded to Hard Rock International, a company with venues in over 68 countries spanning 241 locations that include owned/licensed or managed Hotels, Casinos, Rock Shops®, Live Performance Venues, and Cafes.

The chain has a collection of rock-and-roll memorabilia. The collection began in 1979 with a guitar from Eric Clapton. It is said that he wanted the management to hang the guitar over his regular seat in order to lay claim to that spot, and they obliged. Nowadays the overall collection consists of 86,000 items: from Elvis Presley's Rolls Royce to Rihanna's stage outfit.

As a rule, the Hard Rock® cafes are located in the most crowded places close to transport hubs. In New York, for example, the cafe is located at the heart of Times Square in the premises of the historic Paramount Theatre, and close to Piccadilly Square.
The Hard Rock® Cafe Yerevan will occupy an area of 1000 square meters and will be able to host over 250 guests as a cafe with up to 500 places envisioned for audiences during musical events. The investors and the chain representative in Armenia spent 3 to 4 years in search of proper premises for the cafe. The facilities of the Journalists' Union were what they were looking for. Besides the vicinity to the busiest tourist routes, the requirements included the capacity of the venue, as well as the perspectives to ensure a sound-proofing system.

The franchise to open the branch of the international chain in Armenia was granted to the company run by Arsen Hovhannisyan, the head of the Food Republic. "The exterior of the building definitely will be conserved and refreshed with lots of care to avoid any possible damage to its original look. It must be admitted though that the building, the dome, the Muse, and the wall that holds the sculpture are unique. The dome will not be covered by any additional items. The unique surroundings will also be kept intact, and the logos of the cafe will be installed with much consideration of conservation needs," Hovhannisyan says.

The Armenian National Interests Fund (ANIF) is co-financing the project with a 48 percent share of participation. All works took place in coordination with the representatives from the Yerevan municipality, in order to take into account the wishes and needs of the city.

Franchise representatives are certain that the Hard Rock Cafe will provide this area with a new boost of energy. Just as Muse inspired the residents of Yerevan in the late 70s, Hard Rock Cafe will inspire its guests to go towards new achievements.

It is anticipated that the cafe will be located on two main levels; the first and the second levels will be organized under the dome, and the open-air venue of the cafe will offer outside tables. The cafe is planning performances of a resident band on a weekly basis and of invited local and international bands.

"Given the value of the building, construction work is carried out with particular sensitivity. We have attracted international experts and we expect that as a result, the renovated building will add charm to our city", - owner of the HRC Yerevan franchise Arsen Hovhannisyan admits.

The story was produced in cooperation with
The Hard Rock® Cafe Yerevan.