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Zanzabar is bigger, better and finally perfect

Jeffrey Lee Puckett , @JLeePuckett Published 3:32 p.m. ET April 11, 2017

The Zanzabar has been a nearly perfect bar from the day it opened eight years ago, with the ideal blend of food, cocktails, beer and bands. It has had one enviable problem: It's been a little too good.

Shows have often been too big for the room, selling out the small space far too quickly. And the atmosphere, a mix of top pub food and arcade games, has drawn crowds not interested in the shows, which created a problem with ticketed customers vs. pinball customers and still more crowding. Again, these are the kinds of problems venues want.
With a recent renovation, the Zanzabar may have finally achieved perfection.
A dedicated room for concerts has more than doubled capacity to nearly 400, and its separate entrance means an end to the conflict over who has paid to see a show and who hasn't. More importantly, it's a spectacular space with new handicapped-accessible bathrooms and a green room for bands.

The bar is celebrating throughout April, said Vectortone's Mark Evans, who books the room, and last Saturday's White Reaper show was the biggest celebration so far. It was sold out and yet you could still move, which has never happened, and the general mood was one of happy incredulity.
"We're in Zanzabar," bassist Sam Wilkerson kept repeating at one point as if trying to convince himself.
Jon Wettig, who owns the Zbar with his brother, Antz, stood in back and soaked it all up.
"We worked our butts off on it, and it feels good anytime someone says 'This is amazing' or 'I can't believe this is here.' It hasn't gotten old yet," he said.

The new room is L-shaped with the stage at the bottom of the L, where an outdoor patio used to be. The stage is taller and wider and Garrett Crabtree Jr., of GlitterTitzDjz, has taken a new lighting rig to the next level with some seriously 1970s programming. A new sound system is in the capable hands of Joe Seidt, who first encouraged the Wettigs to expand two years ago.

The room now holds nearly as many people as does the main floor of Headliners Music Hall (minus its balcony, in other words), but with a lowish ceiling over much of the space it retains an intimate atmosphere.
"The space has adjusted to its reputation," Evans said.
The excitement around the new Zbar has been tempered by the recent death of Sandy Wettig, the Wettigs' mother and inspiration. The new concert hall is dominated by large photos of Sandy and their father, Tony, who saw the new room for the first time Saturday, and the brothers have often said that pleasing their parents has been their sole motivation.
"Is there any better thing in life?" Jon said. "We were pretty crazy kids, and they probably wouldn't have been surprised if we had opened a used tire store. Jon and Antz Used Tires and Bonsai Trees. That was plan B."


Reporter Jeffrey Lee Puckett can be reached at 502-582-4160 and jpuckett@courier-journal.com.