The club, which is on the U.S. Register of Historic Places, was closed and put up for sale in September by the last owners, Mary Butwinick and Bret Rios.
Good news for the historic roadhouse came recently in the form of Flagstaff resident Dru Douthit, who bought the club and became sole owner before the end of the year.
An Arizona native, born and raised in Mesa, Douthit came up to Flagstaff in 2006 to attend Northern Arizona University and major in business. He currently works as a real estate agent at RE/MAX Peak Properties in town.
“I’ve been negotiating since September, and I finally got the keys in early December,” Douthit, 31, said.
He reopened The Museum Club, fondly referred to as “The Zoo,” on Friday, Dec. 29.
The realtor and former Camp Navajo police officer saw this as a new adventure.
“There are generations of memories here. I have memories here from years of living in Flagstaff. When it closed, it really took a toll on the community. I was in a position to do something about it, so I decided to try – and it worked out.”
For years, a mixed clientele, from 21 to 90 and even older, have enjoyed the casual, fun environment of the dance hall.
Douthit has been receiving emails from folks who are very happy that the Route 66 landmark will survive and thrive.
“I had a lady get in touch with me from Chicago,” he said. “She was so sad. Her father brought her here for her first legal drink. She was planning to come with her son when he turns 21. She was so thankful [it was saved].”
If the log walls in the old structure could talk, they would tell a long saga with many strange turns and twists.
From its start, The Museum Club has been pulling in folks for both odd and exciting entertainments.
The 72-foot by 42-foot, two-story log house was built in the early 30s as a “museum to house many strange and curious relics” by Dean Eldredge, a taxidermist from Wisconsin, according to a story from the National Registry of Historic Places.
Eldredge had purchased a piece of land and hired local lumberjacks to build what he dubbed, “The biggest log cabin in the nation.”
His dream was to establish a showcase for his huge collection of 30,000 items, including stuffed animals, Indian artifacts, Winchester rifles and weird animals like two-headed calves and a lamb with six legs.
The museum opened on March 13, 1931, as the Home of Fine Taxidermy and was written about several times in the local Coconino Sun, the newspaper of record.
After Eldredge died, the venue morphed during Prohibition into a rough-and-tumble nightclub run by a saddle maker, Doc Williams, eventually evolving in the 1960s into a country music dance hall.
Today, nearly 87 years after its start, The Museum Club still reigns supreme as a premiere roadhouse for live music and dancing, food and libations.
Since 1978, the Zanzucchi family, long-time owners of the popular Granny’s Closet on South Milton Road, has owned the building and property.
According to a Sept. 6, 2017 business story in the Arizona Daily Sun, Butwinick and Rios ran into difficulties with expenses bringing the building up to current fire and health codes and with generating enough income from ticket sales.
Douthit is hoping to maintain the famed traditions, including planning a string of live entertainment that will begin with a performance by the local Ty-one-on Band at the end of January.
He also has hired a new bar manager, Lesli McAnally, who is already at work preparing the establishment’s three bars, including an antique mahogany bar in the back that dates to the 1880s and traveled to Flagstaff by way of New Orleans, San Francisco and Scottsdale.
Some decorating is taking place on the premises, mostly “just some minor stuff,” Douthit said, but there are more changes in the future.
“One of the big changes is the Zoo Club membership – so you can be a member of the Zoo Club,” he said. “We’re going to cap it at 100 members – happy hour prices all day, every day, special prices on show tickets, two members-only parties or shows each year, at $200 a year.”
Radio spots are bringing in members at a good clip, he says. “I imagine we’ll sell out fast. I am anxious to make this happen. It’s exciting, to try a new adventure.”
The Museum Club has a new phone number and email address: 928-440-5214 and firstname.lastname@example.org. FBN
By Betsey Bruner, FBN
Courtesy KDI Photography