creative:impact - The Zal Gaz Grotto: One of Ann Arbor’s oldest music venues
Founded in 1911, the Zal Gaz Grotto is steeped in the history of masons wanting to cultivate sunny cheerfulness and indulgence in healthy merriment and joyful laughter. A simple building on West Stadium, it is a home for local jazz and rock bands and attracts an eclectic audience. Bob Hospardaruk is a master mason and serves as secretary of the club. He joins Deb Polich of Creative Washtenaw on this edition of "creative:impact."
Creative industries in Washtenaw County add hundreds of millions of dollars to the local economy. In the weeks and months to come, 89.1 WEMU's David Fair and co-host Deb Polich, the President and CEO of Creative Washtenaw, explore the myriad of contributors that make up the creative sector in Washtenaw County.
Deb Polich: This is 89 one WEMU, and I'm Deb Polich, president and CEO of Creative Washtenaw and usually David Fair's co-host for WEMU's weekly feature creative:impact. David is out on medical leave and getting ready to come back better than ever. So, until he returns sometime after Thanksgiving, I'm excited to serve as your solo host. Join me over the next few weeks as we welcome creative guests and continue to explore the impact of the arts and creative industries in Washtenaw County. So here we go. My first solo. One of Ann Arbor's oldest music venues. Maybe one you've never seen or maybe you've seen it, but you've never stepped inside. You might not even know it's a music club. Bob Hospardaruk serves as secretary of the Zal Gaz Grotto located in West Stadium. Welcome to creative:impact, Bob.
Bob Hospardaruk: Hi, good morning.
Deb Polich: So, Bob, I kind of messed the name up, but the Zal Gaz grotto--let me say that one more time--Zal Gaz Grotto is 110 years old, being founded in 1911. That's a lot of history. Can you give us a two minute summary?
Bob Hospardaruk: Yeah. Well, um, they've been in different places around Ann Arbor, mostly downtown. And ever since 1911, we've been doing crazy hijinks and doing charity work around Ann Arbor. The Grotto Club--Zal Gaz Grotto--was formed by Masonic brothers in the city, who've been in Ann Arbor for even longer. Ever since, I think 1827, the first Masonic Lodge was formed in Ann Arbor, and those members eventually got together to form what's called a grotto club, which is really just a fun social club for masons, a place where, you know, Masons can and their spouses can unwind and do things that have fun and lodge, as they might not have done during the regular Masonic meetings because they're a little bit more serious.
Deb Polich: Yeah. So, I was surprised I did a bunch of researchers I often do for our shows that Masonic scholars trace the origins of the Masons back to the Middle Ages and the craft of stone masonry. And those are people who, you know, do use stones for building structures and sculptures. And the Stone Masons Guild was formed to regulate that practice and the skills and the people that were doing that work. What do you think most people think about the Masons?
Bob Hospardaruk: Gosh, you know, I wish I knew the answer to that question. I think they think it's something mysterious or some, you know, underground thing, but it's...we like to say we're not a secret organization, but an organization with some secrets. Like, back in the Stone Masons age, I guess people had to have certain ways of recognition, so there might be a secret handshake, there might be a secret password, so that you knew that that person was in the guild.
Deb Polich: I see.
Bob Hospardaruk: And and so we kind of carry on that tradition and we have, yes, we have secret passwords and everything. But the Masons are really just a very old fraternity that dates the masonry as we know it dates back to like the 1700's.
Deb Polich: So what's that password? Just kidding.
Bob Hospardaruk: Oh, well. Yeah.
Deb Polich: Just kidding. So I love that the founders of the order wanted to bring joy to their hearts by the cultivation of sunny cheerfulness and indulging in healthy merriment and joyful after. That sounds great. How do you guys--how do you manage that at the grotto?
Bob Hospardaruk: Well, first of all, it's a club where, you know, our own members and their family can come and hang out and have a social gathering place. But, over the years, it's morphed into something more, especially ever since we've had our place on West Stadium since 1958. Really, we've shared the building with the community and having music acts and magicians. And the grotto used to sponsor a grotto circus every year in Ann Arbor. Apparently it was a really big deal. You can find pictures of elephants coming down the steps of one of our temples. And so, that's what it's really just is, right from the get go, the Grotto Club has been a social activity and a charitable activity.
Deb Polich: This is creative:impact on eighty nine 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 presenting local bands and musicians?
Bob Hospardaruk: Well, I think, really from the get-go, when we moved into our current building in the early 60s and got things going, it's just a really nice venue space. We've always had two sides to the house. We have a bar and commercial kitchen, and we have a banquet hall with a stage at one end. And bands have been coming there for years. And our current manager, Pat Tessmer, has just done a great job interfacing with local musicians and offering them a place to play. It's kind of a neat setup the grotto has because of our usual penniless condition. We know we have to pay property taxes to the city, believe it or not. But we usually let bands play at our place free of charge. We don't pay them. So, and we don't charge them anything to pay there, but they always take the cover charge. So, a band comes to the grotto knows that they get the cover free and clear, and maybe we'll sell a few beers and stuff as we go.
Deb Polich: Well, so one of WEMU's favorites, the Paul Keller Orchestra, is the Monday night regular, and we stopped, and my husband and I stopped in a couple of weeks ago to see Paul Clinger's Easy Street Jazz Band, and I kind of loved, you know, the atmosphere. It was fun. So how do bands find you guys?
Bob Hospardaruk: Well, some, gosh, I would say, a lot of it's been by word of mouth. The jazz crowd has been great at the Grotto club. I think they might have been looking for a new home when when the old Bird of Paradise shut down downtown, and ever since then, they've been playing at the grotto, and they've really become the whole jazz crowd is, you know, a really big scene in Ann Arbor, and they've become a really big part of our life.
Deb Polich: I was going to say that WEMU is part of that big scene. And speaking of WEMU, this is 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 promote to them and reach them? Is that up to you as the club, or or is it up to the artists to do that?
Bob Hospardaruk: It's both. Our membership has had to learn to work the internet and get social media going, so we can advertise stuff, and we encourage the bands that play at our place to try to wind up their their own social media publicity, and then we always share that through our different channels. We have, of course, we have a Facebook page, and we have a website, and we have an Instagram account. So, we try to share all the artists stuff that they give us, and we also put their events that they're having in our club on our calendar. And we also have a really great email list from our friends in the Grotto organization. Kind of like other nonprofits where you might go to have an adult beverage. You need to be some kind of member at the Grotto to do so. And we have to offer a really reasonable friends at the Grotto membership, and we have a really large email list of really great fans of local Ann Arbor music. So that really helps.
Deb Polich: Everyone's invited. You don't have to be a member to attend.
Bob Hospardaruk: That's right.
Deb Polich: And foods and drinks and cover. I noticed that there's a food truck out front?
Bob Hospardaruk: Yeah. Cosas of Rosa. During the pandemic, we really grew a business relationship with our friend Jeff from Cosas of Rosa, and it's probably one of the best Mexican food in town. And he operated a food truck out of our commercial kitchen. That is, he used to do prep work in our commercial kitchen. And since the pandemic came, he's moved his cooking operation and selling operation into our building. And you can get really excellent Cosas of Rosas food.
Deb Polich: It's very good. I had a chance to sample that. Thank you for that--having good food. So, you know, after 110 years, the Grotto is still creating that cheerfulness and merriment and laughter, mostly and often through Ann Arbor's finest musicians. Thanks so much for taking us inside the Grotto. It's been a delight to have you on creative:impact, Bob.
Bob Hospardaruk: Oh, that's fantastic, and I hope to see you there sometime soon.
Deb Polich: Absolutely. That's Bob Hospardaruk, secretary of the 110 year old Zal Gaz Grotto and a gem of Ann Arbor music venue here in our area, featuring many of the area's best musicians. Learn more about Bob and the Grotto at WEMU dot org. I'm Deb Polich, president and CEO of Creative Washtenaw and temporary solo host of creative:impact. Join me next week for another informative and exciting creative Washtenaw guest. We'll let David Fair continue his recovery and look forward to his return in late November. For more information on today's guests and topics, head over to WEMU dot org. I'm Deb Polich, and this is your community NPR radio station, 89 one WEMU FM and WEMU HD one Ypsilanti.
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