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421 F rom the first time I stepped into Zoot’s I knew it was a special place. Tired of the downtown bar scene,a friend of mine had convinced me to check out the new coffeehouse a few blocks from our place on Alexandrine. Coffeehouses were a rare sight in the ’90s and even more uncommon in the Cass Corridor. But there it was, brightly lit and welcoming in the bleak landscape of after-dark Corridor life.Located in the first floor of a Victorian home and sandwiched in between a transient hotel and a locals-only dive bar, it was a strange and beautiful sight. At the time, Zoot’s was still trying to be a traditional coffeehouse with jazz music,potluck dinners,and loners striking intellectual poses while chain-smoking cigarettes. It was warm and welcoming. They served only one type of coffee, which was spiced, and, if you ever had a cup, I’m sure you can still recall that distinctive flavor to this day. It was full of vintage furniture,had a lending library,and, if you hung out long enough, a bottle of wine might be shared. There was a certain DIY sophistication, an almost European vibe, that stood out like a sore thumb in the gritty Cass Corridor of that time. And there was Zoot herself,a majestic and loving chocolate Doberman.I knew almost immediately I wanted to be a part of this.Maybe I knew that it would become the epicenter for underground music in Detroit. Maybe I knew it would be the future gathering place of all those tired of the most recent corporate “broternative” takeover of youth culture. Maybe I knew it would become a space where the next new things could not only be attempted but be supported. Most likely I didn’t; but I knew something good was going to happen at 4470 Second Avenue. You can’t stop the underground.By the time I got hired in at Zoot’s, there had already been a trickle of rock and avant-jazz shows. It was not quite a venue yet, and shows were still treated as special events. It was most likely in this time that one of the more important things about Zoot’s booking came about, the fifteen-dollar PA fee. I’m not sure where the number came from, but for fifteen dollars you got an all-ages space that held roughly 150 people, with no strings attached. That allowed a person booking a show to not only keep the door price low but also pay the bands,both touring and local,well.It’s hard to imagine a fan-driven and ethically motivated booking policy, but that’s what it became. If you loved a band and wanted to bring them to Detroit, here was the place. If you wanted to do a show with your favorite local band that could not get booked anywhere else, here was your chance.All you needed was an employee to sign off on the date and it was yours. As the shows ramped up and more people got involved in the booking process, a scene started to evolve. It was a scene of music lovers and underdog supporters that now had a space free of bar politics and typical venue hassles. Zoot’s started to become the spot to see something new, something exciting, something fresh.There was an emphasis on bringing in the unusual, the sincere, the band that deserved a Random Thoughts A Brief History of WSU’s Legendary Zoot’s Coffee Aaron Anderson 422 DeTroıT Musıc Mıscellanea break. And the place filled up. It swelled with all the outsiders of current “alternative”culture,with all those dedicated to the underground,with all those bored of closed-minded rock clubs,and all those who knew we could build something better in Detroit.Somehow in the middle of all this,another employee and I bought Zoot’s from the original owner. For a few years we did it.Zoot’s became the spot other bands told each other about. The place you had to play in Detroit. Where the kids showed up and went nuts, you were treated well, and the bands got paid. It became the place you took your friend to when you wanted to show them something cool. It became the place to meet your new best friend or fall in love. Zoot’s would become the incubator for...


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