Lorenzo Colella is the owner of Joe's Pizza back home. By chance, he and his friend Tommy met a contingent representing the Nutmeg State. Rounds of shots at the Hard Rock Cafe were aplenty, and that was the deal breaker. Unless you frequent the Martini bar located above the Great Hall, there is one choice of alcohol -- beer.
"We may not need to go to the Stadium," Colella said.
The game experience at the Hard Rock Cafe, located at Gate 6 in the new Yankee Stadium, began at 10 ET on Thursday morning, when a throng of people donning pinstripes and rock regalia filed into the circle bar and cozy seating area. By 2 p.m., the wait for a table was more than two hours, and navigating the restaurant was like finding wiggle room on the Major Deegan Expressway.
Hartford's Mike Mancini drove three hours to watch the game -- without a ticket. That's the main marketing strategy of both the Hard Rock and its upstairs neighbor, NYY Steak. There's a package deal with watching the Yankees at Yankee Stadium, even though you aren't viewing the field with naked eyes.
"It's been worth the trip," Mancini said. "We drove three hours, in traffic, to hang out at the Hard Rock."
If you're at the Hard Rock Cafe and not a ticket-holder, don't think about trying to sneak in. The Yankees have security staffed at back doors toward the kitchen. At the back door that leads to the Great Hall, there's a guard with a scanner, but law-abiding citizens will have plenty to do.
The Hard Rock's plans for the season include live remote broadcasts from radio stations when the Yankees are on the road and special lunch offers for those touring the facility during the offseason. Private functions and events are being arranged, including one for captain Derek Jeter's Turn 2 Foundation.
"This is the closest you'll get to being in Yankee Stadium if you're not able to get a ticket to the game but want to be a part of the action -- this is where you're going to feel it the most," said Dave Miller, the Hard Rock's director of operations. "Even if the Yankees are away, we want people to come on down. It's a great atmosphere with a great bar and a great staff. And you're inside Yankee Stadium.
"If the Yankees are playing the Red Sox in Boston, why wouldn't you want to be down by the Stadium inside a great location with a live radio broadcast in New York going on?"
And where else can you enjoy beef dry-aged for up to 28 days with a view of the Great Hall and an ambiance that combines substance with class?
Jacques Lamour is NYY Steak's general manager, and he began as a staff of one on Feb. 4 before the company evolved to a team of 65, including "Top Chef: Season 2" contestant Josie Smith-Malave as the head chef.
Lamour managed premium services at the original Yankee Stadium for four years and dealt with one common denominator -- emptiness at game time. By the fourth inning on Thursday, NYY Steak's bar was nearly full, and half of the restaurant's tables were serving appetizers and cuts of beef made from scratch.
Ron Lombardi of Mountain Lakes, N.J., is another ticket-holder who explored views from his seats for the first four innings and the Hard Rock Cafe before he and his group settled into the laid-back atmosphere of NYY Steak. He was awaiting a rib eye, but not with the impatience of a starving 7-year old.
"This is a steakhouse," Lombardi said. "The appetizers are good."
Getting in and out will soon be a breeze, with valet service to be established within the next two to three weeks on non-game days. And whether it's the Hard Rock or NYY Steak, fans will have somewhere to hang out for two hours after the game instead of fuming in traffic on the Deegan or the George Washington Bridge on a Friday night or Saturday afternoon.
For good measure, Lamour proudly boasted of something unique to the NYY Steak experience. Patrons can have their initials carved within the bone of their rib eye.
"The vision is to provide exceptional service," Lamour said. "What that means is to provide every guest with an experience they're not going to forget. That goes beyond giving them a good plate of food or serving from the left or cleaning from the right or having knowledge of the menu. It means developing a relationship with that customer and treating them like they're coming into our home."