Each night this month between 11:57 p.m. and midnight, a soothing color-wash reboot happens across the electronic screens. Here, watch, it’ll give you serotonin.
It’s an art project that sends Times Square into each day fresh — only to do the same thing all over again at 12:01 a.m. Since time immemorial, or maybe, like, 1990, Times Square has been reusing and recycling itself to stay the center of where lost people go to spend time in New York City. The days and the calendar wheel around this town’s primal power triangle: Ball drop, Valentine’s Day weddings, yoga on the solstice — round and round it goes. The furries change, beneath their masks, but the smell stays the same, a wheel of time that is observable also in the boom and bust Planet Hollywood cycle.
Planet Hollywood: Round One
Picture it. October, 1991. Roseanne Barr hadn’t been run out of show business and become a vlogger who sells DEPLATFORMED T-shirts, and Wesley Snipes hadn’t declared himself a sovereign tax citizen and gone to jail. Bruce Willis was famous, and all the celeb stars aligned as Planet Hollywood opened up on 57th Street. Finally, a little bit of California culture right here in New York City!
As the chain prospered in Manhattan and opened up location after location from Miami to Nashville, it also worked toward a public offering (that’s like an NFT, but on the stock market!) in 1996, briefly becoming an exceedingly high-value company before everyone realized this formula was rip-offable and also that the food was awful. Amid the hypefest, the darkest moment of the ’90s came when the world nearly saw the advent of a Baywatch Cafe chain hosted by David Hasselhoff. But by then the celeb-eatery craze was cratering.
Instead, Planet Hollywood filed for bankruptcy in 1999, marking the official end of the ’90s. (Everyone says the ’90s ended on 9/11, but that’s cheap.) The original Planet Hollywood location closed in 2000, and it would file for bankruptcy again in 2001.
Planet Hollywood: Round Two
Planned for Broadway and 47th Street, and touted in the Times in 1997, the Planet Hollywood hotel would have rooms “decorated with paraphernalia from a family-oriented film like It’s a Wonderful Life, or The Terminator, a film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, a founding stockholder of Planet Hollywood.” Terrifying!
Instead, we got a Planet Hollywood on Broadway that sputtered onward for years, as Times Square became its ever more clockwork self: a tidy and heavily policed little show between the Olive Garden and the same-day theater tickets. Planet Hollywood’s owners re-upped a ten-year-lease in 2012 and didn’t cut it. They were sued for back rent and closed before the pandemic.
Planet Hollywood: Round Three
Stallone and Schwarzenegger are gone. But the franchise threatens to open again later this year — with a twist. They’ve signed a lease for four floors on 42nd Street, right across from the old Condé Nast headquarters entrance. While they’ll pull full fan service on two cozy Planet Hollywood floors, they’re entering the modern age with a Guy Fieri collab outpost (RIP chickens, your life is awful) and also an enormous ghost kitchen. Now that’s an expensive rent to pay for a ghost kitchen, but from it they’ll be creating branded food content with names attached like Mr. Beast. Now celebrity food is all the same food just with different packaging around the food, much like — well, Planet Hollywood in Times Square.