Museum Club in Flagstaff closes abruptly

Museum Club, Flagstaff, AZ

The Museum Club, a Route 66 landmark in Flagstaff, Arizona, since 1931, closed with little warning Monday night, and its future appears uncertain.

The Facebook page for the Museum Club posted this message about midday Monday:

NO MEMORABILIA IS BEING SOLD INDIVIDUALLY OR IS ANYTHING BEING ALLOWED TO BE REMOVED FROM THE MUSEUM CLUB!!! YES THE CLUB HAS BEEN LISTED AND IS UP FOR SALE; CONTACT BRET RIOS @ [email protected]

AS OF TODAY 7 PM THE DOORS OF THE WORLD FAMOUS MUSEUM CLUB WILL BE CLOSING!!!
YOU ARE INVITED TO COME TO FOR ONE LAST TOAST!!!
THANKS TO HIRED GUNS FOR PLAYING OUR CLOSING DAY. THEY WILL ROCK THE STAGE FROM 3 TO 7 TODAY!!!
NO KARAOKE TONIGHT!!!

No explanation was given for the closing.

KAFF radio was once of the few media outlets to report the closing Monday. It didn’t have any explanations, either, but several people on the story’s comment thread speculated a citywide minimum-wage increase might have been a reason.

On July 1, Flagstaff enacted a minimum wage of $10.50 an hour — 50 cents higher than the state’s $10 rate. In the city’s defense, Flagstaff costs 24 percent more to live there than the U.S. average. And rising rent prices has become an ongoing problem for Flagstaff’s working poor.

A person named Bret who claimed he was the owner of the Museum Club also commented on the thread:

There are several reasons why we are closing. However, we will be offering the business for sale and certainly hope that it will be purchased by someone who values the uniqueness of the club as much as we have. It is unlikely to be closed forever; the landlord who owns the building and grounds certainly would like to see it keep going.

I will say that the minimum wage hike ($1/hour so far this year) was one of the contributing factors to the difficulty in operating a profitable business. I would strongly suggest that city re-consider that decision. It appears to be affecting many small businesses, and it will only drive prices up for the consumers who live in Flagstaff.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation compiled this history last year about the Museum Club:

Constructed by taxidermist Dean Eldredge in the early 1930s, the former eponymous museum is touted as the biggest log cabin in Arizona and once housed upward of 30,000 items from Eldredge’s lifetime collection of stuffed animals, rifles, and Native American artifacts.

The structure — aptly nicknamed “The Zoo” by the local police force due to the rowdy crowd the club attracted — was used as a nightclub, recording studio, and roadhouse through the 1950s until it was resurrected as a country music dance hall by Don and Thorna Scott in 1963.

Over the next 10 years, Don and Thorna would welcome the likes of Willie Nelson, Wynn Stewart, Wanda Jackson, and Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys to take the stage at The Museum Club. But tragedy struck in 1973 when, after falling down a set of stairs, Thorna died. Just two years later, distraught from the loss, Don took his own life in front of The Museum Club’s fireplace.

Current owners Joe and Shanyn Lange took over with their son Brandon Tullis in 2005. Located less than five miles from Northern Arizona University, the club attracts an eclectic group of students, locals, and visitors seeking an authentic Route 66 experience. Outfitted with wooden booths, rich red curtains flanking the stage, a mounted elk head, and antler decorations, The Museum Club embraces its storied past.

The Arizona Daily Sun published a good story about the Museum Club a few years ago. One of its claims to fame is it hosted the first public performance by future country star Tanya Tucker, who was 14 at the time.

UPDATE: The Arizona Daily Sun, based in Flagstaff, provided some more in-depth reporting, including this:

The land and the building is still owned by the Zanzucchi family and is not for sale.
The Zanzucchis leased the building to the two business partners that operated the country music bar and honky tonk. Mary Butwinick, one of the partners in the business, said that a number of things both inside and outside of the business contributed to the closure. The other business partner is Bret Rios.
The club is located several miles east of the main bar scene in downtown Flagstaff, bringing the building up to current fire and health codes was expensive, prices for drinks hadn’t changed in years and it was hard to increase them to meet current needs. It was also a small music venue, which made ticket prices to live music events expensive, she said.
“All the pieces just fell into place, there was just too many that were against us. It was a business decision,” Butwinick said.

(Image of the Museum Club in 2007 by Al_HikesAZ via Flickr)

3 thoughts on “Museum Club in Flagstaff closes abruptly

  1. Martin Zanzucchi, who owns the Musuem Club building and property, is a strong supporter of Route 66, and was responsible for getting the City of Flagstaff to recognize Route 66 as the official name of what became Santa Fe Avenue somewhere along the way. Martin understands the significance of the Museum Club to the history of the Route, and though I haven’t had a chance to chat with him yet, I feel confident that the future of this most important Route 66 icon is in good hands, and that this is just another bump in the road.

  2. Save the Club, this is a big part of Flagstaff’s history, I was a resident from 1953 to 1997 and have had a lot of memory’s from their, and know a lot of artists play their.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.