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    Photos by Mickie Winters

    “Are they doing photos today?” Zanzabar owner Jon Wettig says. “Antz was like, ‘Dude, I’ve been wearing the same clothes for like three days.’” The brothers’ bar has a new concert hall that’s been open for a little over a week, but the Wettigs haven’t quite finished when I meet them on this early-April afternoon. Several construction workers are in the corner making adjustments, with cords, tools and wood on the floor. The project has been several years in the making, ever since sound manager Joe Seidt suggested expanding the venue space by building out to the side and eating into the patio space.

    The bar, on Preston Street at the edge of Schnitzelburg, looks the same in the front — the checkered floor, the corner of pinball machines, the bathrooms that require acrobatics to get in and out of on busy nights. But a wall now separates the bar from a concert hall, where the first thing you’ll notice is a tree mural, made by the Wettigs’ cousin David Schuster. It glows when the lights are on, one side appearing as though the sun is setting, the other as though it’s rising. Technical changes include a new PA system and subs built into the stage. “I was telling my banker the budget for the lights and she was like, ‘What are you talking about? This is crazy. This is more than the PA,’” Antz says. Two LED light strips in the ceiling used to qualify as “lighting.” “It was pretty hokey compared to what we have now,” Antz says. Garrett Crabtree Jr. (DJ Glittertitz), who has played at the bar every Saturday for eight years, designed the new lighting system. “That’s something that would be at the fuckin’ Science Center, or like on display at 21c,” Antz says. Several older patrons who have been coming to the bar for decades managed to convince the brothers, who are in their late 40s, to keep the dance floor from when the place first opened in 1938. On either side of the new unisex bathrooms are old photos of the brothers’ dad and mom; the latter passed away a week before the March 24 grand opening — a sold-out Twin Limb show that happened to fall on Antz’s birthday.

    “We built (the old stage) to be intimate,” Antz says. “That’s why the stage was so short.” The nine-piece Budos Band was once able to fit on that stage, the sounds of their trumpets, drums and saxophone encased in the shoebox of a room. When rapper Devin the Dude rolled through, I remember thinking, How on earth is a guy this good in a space this small? He may as well have been in my own basement playing a private, albeit packed (and, um, fragrant) show. I once saw a band’s setlist written on the back of a paper plate that was on the stage’s edge. In other words, the old space democratized musical performances. 

    It’s not like the new place has turned into the Yum! Center. I can’t let nostalgia get in the way of the fact that the sound is better and I no longer have to wear high heels to guarantee a view from my 5’5” stature. Singer-songwriter Vanessa Carlton and Adrian Belew (a guitarist who has been in bands with Frank Zappa, the Talking Heads and David Bowie) have been some of the first to play in the new hall. California Guitar Trio did a song titled “Komorebi,” a Japanese word meaning “when you’re in the woods and come upon a view of the sun shining through the trees.” “How nice of them to draw a picture of komorebi for us,” one of the musicians said, referring to the mural surrounding the stage.

    Zanzabar continues to book talent through Vectortone, under the umbrella of Production Simple, which also books Headliners Music Hall. They’ll try a show at Zanzabar, and if a band blows up, they’ll go to Headliners the next time around. That’s always been the case, but with an increased capacity — about 375, up from 200 (Headliners and Mercury Ballroom can fit about 800) — Jon says they’re able to reach a market Louisville hasn’t had. 

    “We’re never gonna forget where we came from,” Antz says. “We destroyed this building. It’s a proper music venue now, not just us repurposing a restaurant and turning it into a badass music venue.”

    This originally appeared in the May 2017 issue of Louisville Magazine. To subscribe to Louisville Magazine, click here. To find your very own copy of Louisville Magazine, click here. 

    Mary Chellis Nelson's picture

    About Mary Chellis Nelson

    Mary Chellis Nelson is the managing editor of Louisville Magazine.

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