inventive: impact – The Zal Gaz Grotto: One of the oldest music clubs in Ann Arbor
The Zal Gaz Grotto, founded in 1911, is shaped by the story of the masons who wanted to cultivate sunny happiness and enjoyment in healthy happiness and happy laughter. It’s a simple building on the Weststadion, is home to local jazz and rock bands, and attracts a diverse crowd. Bob Hospardaruk is a master bricklayer and works as the club’s secretary. He accompanies Deb Polich from Creative Washtenaw on this edition of “creative: impact”.
Washtenaw County’s creative industries contribute hundreds of millions of dollars to the local economy. Over the coming weeks and months, 89.1 WEMU’s David Fair and co-host Deb Polich, President and CEO of Creative Washtenaw, will explore the myriad of contributors that make up Washtenaw County’s creative sector.
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Deb Polich: This is 89 one WEMU, and I’m Deb Polich, President and CEO of Creative Washtenaw and usually co-host of David Fair for WEMU’s weekly creative: impact feature. David is on sick leave and preparing to return better than ever. So until he returns sometime after Thanksgiving, I look forward to serving as your solo host. Join me for the next few weeks as we greet creative guests and continue to explore the impact of the arts and creative industries in Washtenaw County. Here we go. My first solo. One of Ann Arbor’s oldest music venues. Maybe one you’ve never seen before, or maybe you’ve seen it, but you’ve never walked in. You may not even know it’s a music club. Bob Hospardaruk is the secretary of the Zal Gaz Grotto in the West Stadium. Welcome to creative: impact, Bob.
Bob Hospardaruk: Hello, good morning.
Deb Polich: Well, Bob, I kind of screwed up the name, but the Zal-Gaz Grotto – let me say that again – the Zal-Gaz Grotto is 110 years old and was founded in 1911. That’s a lot of history. Can you give us a two-minute summary?
Bob Hospardaruk: Yes. Well, uh, they’ve been to various locations in Ann Arbor, mostly downtown. And we’ve been doing crazy hijinks and charity work around Ann Arbor since 1911. The Grotto Club – Zal Gaz Grotto – was founded by Brothers Freemasons in the city who have been in Ann Arbor for a long time. Since then, I believe, the first Masonic Lodge was founded in Ann Arbor in 1827, and those members eventually got together to create what is called a Grotto Club, which is really just a fun social club for masons, a place where, you know, Masons can and do their spouses can relax and do things that are fun and settle down that they might not have done during regular Masonic meetings because they are a bit more serious.
Deb Polich: Yeah. So I was surprised to find that I hired a number of researchers, who I often do for our shows, that Masonic Scholars trace the origins of Masons back to the Middle Ages and the craft of stone carving. And these are people who use stones to build structures and sculptures. And the stonemasons guild was formed to regulate that practice and the skills and people who did that work. What do you think most people think of the Freemasons?
Bob Hospardaruk: Gosh, you know, I wish I knew the answer to that question. I think they think it’s something mysterious or some underground thing, but it’s … we like to say that we are not a secret organization, we are an organization with some secrets. For example in the stonecutter era, I think people had to have certain types of recognition, so there could be a secret handshake, there could be a secret password so you knew that person was in the guild.
Deb Polich: I see.
Bob Hospardaruk: And so we continue this tradition and have, yes, we have secret passwords and everything. But the Freemasons are really just a very old brotherhood that dates masonry as we know it to the 18th century.
Deb Polich: What’s the password? Was just a joke.
Bob Hospardaruk: Oh well. Yes.
Deb Polich: Was just a joke. So I think it’s great that the Order founders wanted to bring joy to their hearts by cultivating sunny happiness and indulging in healthy happiness and joy afterwards. That sounds good. How are you, how do you do it in the grotto?
Bob Hospardaruk: Well, first of all, it’s a club where our own members and their families can come and meet and have a social gathering place. But over the years it has grown into something more, especially since we had our place at West Stadium since 1958. Really, we shared the building with the community and we have music acts and magicians. And the grotto sponsored a grotto circus in Ann Arbor each year. Apparently it was a really big deal. You can find pictures of elephants coming down the steps of one of our temples. And that’s really just it, the Grotto Club has been a social activity and a charitable activity from the start.
Deb Polich: That’s creative: impacting 89 point one WEMU, and our guest is Bob Hospardaruk, secretary of the 110 year old Zal Gaz Grotto, one of Ann Arbor’s oldest music venues. So, Bob, when and how and why did the grotto start featuring local bands and musicians?
Bob Hospardaruk: Well, I think really from the start, when we moved into our current building in the early 1960s and got things going, it was just a really nice venue. We always had two sides of the house. We have a bar and a commercial kitchen, and we have a banquet hall with a stage at one end. And bands have been going there for years. And our current manager, Pat Tessmer, has just done a great job working with local musicians and providing them with a place to play. It is a neat facility that the grotto has due to our usual penniless condition. We know we have to pay property taxes to the city, believe it or not. But usually we let bands play with us for free. We don’t pay them. So, and we don’t charge them to pay there, but they always cover the cover fee. So, a band that comes to the grotto knows they get the cover for free and clear, and maybe we’ll sell some beers and stuff along the way.
Deb Polich: So, one of WEMU’s favorites, the Paul Keller Orchestra, is the Monday night regular, and we stopped, and my husband and I stopped by a few weeks ago to see Paul Clinger’s Easy Street Jazz Band, and i kindly loved by, you know the atmosphere. It was fun. How do bands find you?
Bob Hospardaruk: Well, some, my goodness, I would say, a lot of it was through word of mouth. The jazz crowd at the Grotto Club was great. I think they might have been looking for a new home when the old downtown Bird of Paradise shut down and they’ve been playing in the grotto ever since, and they really became the whole jazz crowd, you know? , a really big scene in Ann Arbor, and they have become a really big part of our lives.
Deb Polich: I wanted to say that WEMU is part of this big scene. Speaking of WEMU, that’s creative: impact. And our guest is Bob Hosparaduk, secretary of the 110 year old Zal Gaz Grotto, one of Ann Arbor’s oldest music venues. So what about your audience? How do you advertise them and how do you reach them? Is that because of you as a club or because of the artists?
Bob Hospardaruk: It’s both. Our members had to learn to work with the internet and get social media going so we could advertise, and we encourage the bands that play with us to try and end their own social media presence, and then we always share this through our various channels. We of course have a Facebook page and we have a website and we have an Instagram account. So we try to share all the artist stuff that they give us, and we also put their events that they have in our club on our calendar. And we also have a really great email list from our friends in the Grotto organization. Similar to other nonprofits where you might have an adult drink. To do this, you have to be some kind of member of the grotto. And we have really reasonable friends to offer with Grotto membership, and we have a really big email list of really great fans of local Ann Arbor music. So this really helps.
Deb Polich: Everyone is invited. You don’t have to be a member to participate.
Bob Hospardaruk: That’s right.
Deb Polich: And food and drink and cover. I noticed that there is a food truck in front of the door?
Bob Hospardaruk: Yes. Kosas from Rosa. We really developed a business relationship with our friend Jeff from Cosas of Rosa during the pandemic, and it’s probably one of the best Mexican food in town. And he served a food truck from our large kitchen. That means he used to do preparatory work in our large kitchen. And since the pandemic came, he has moved his cooking and sales operations to our building. And you can get really excellent Cosas of Rosas food.
Deb Polich: It’s very good. I had the opportunity to try that. Thanks for that – good food. So, you know, after 110 years the grotto still produces that glee and glee and laughter, mostly and often by the best of Ann Arbor’s musicians. Thank you for taking us to the grotto. It was a pleasure to have you at creative: impact, Bob.
Bob Hospardaruk: Oh, that’s fantastic and I hope to see you there soon.
Deb Polich: Absolutely. This is Bob Hospardaruk, secretary of the 110 year old Zal Gaz Grotto and a gem of the Ann Arbor music venue here in our area, with many of the best musicians in the area. Find out more about Bob and the grotto at WEMU dot org. I’m Deb Polich, President and CEO of Creative Washtenaw and temporary solo presenter of creative: impact. Join me for another informative and exciting creative Washtenaw guest next week. We let David Fair continue his recovery and look forward to his return in late November. Further information on today’s guests and topics can be found at WEMU dot org. I’m Deb Polich and this is your community NPR radio station, 89 a WEMU FM and WEMU HD a Ypsilanti.
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