By Avery Wood
Zelda’s Nightclub will be hosting its 40th anniversary party on Saturday, March 11 to celebrate being one of the longest-standing nightclubs in the Coachella Valley and according to owner Mike McCormick, “there is no doubt this is going to be the event of the decade.”
Zelda’s is an establishment that embraces history; there is an old carnival pony at the door, a photo booth, vintage cash registers and a graphotype machine that was used to make dog tags during World War II in the office to print VIP cards. And McCormick seems to consider Zelda’s history in the making. He’s been with Zelda’s for most of its 40 years and remembers all of the previous owners, all of whom he has worked with at Zelda’s and at other businesses the owners started over the years. “Harvey Izen, Roger Gibson [and] Joe Gallagher opened up in 1977, right at the beginning of…Saturday Night Fever the disco era, so Zelda’s was a hit right off the bat.
“I started in 1978 in June as a bartender. I was 21 years old. We opened another club in 1986 called Cecil’s on Sunrise, where I became the manager…it was over in the Smoketree shopping center in Palm Springs and I managed that for 10 years, and then became their partner at Zelda’s when we sold Cecil’s in 1996. We opened up Bananaz in Palm Desert around the same era… we owned Bananaz for about 8 years and sold it in 2002 and that was when I bought the partners out, they were ready to retire. Then Rod Copland, who was a bartender also at Zelda’s became by business partner in 2002,” he says, emphasizing that while most clubs come and go, Zelda’s has remained consistently popular.
The long and eventful history of Zelda’s is being celebrated in its entirety at this event. They’ve been digging up all the old photos of past events through the decades and sharing them on Facebook, with help from Zelda’s original promoter Steve Johns. “There has been four to five generations if you figure it out, through Zelda’s. People we knew years ago, now their kids are all here and their grandkids are all coming to Zelda’s,” McCormick says.
McCormick remembers the spring break era in particular and believes it was beneficial to the area. “We were number one from 1977 through the spring break era,” he says. “We were located right… in the heart of downtown… that’s where our old location was. Our line was probably a three hour wait to get into Zelda’s during spring break. We were definitely the destination for spring break. Do we miss those two weeks? Absolutely, we wish we could get them all back and our thinking on it was that all those college students got a chance to come to Palm Springs, they had a great time here… hiked in the mountains, got to cruise in their cars… go to the clubs at night… they really enjoyed it… We feel that when they graduate, this would be the point…they would come back, after they started earning money and… raising children, they always remember that good time at spring break in Palm Springs. We wish we could somehow get the couple weeks back that the college students were able to spend in Palm Springs.” During that time, celebrities passed through Zelda’s, both as guests and performers. McCormick notes seeing Sonny and Cher; George Foreman; Rick James; Wayne Gretsky; Shaq; and Kobe Bryant, and says he just recently saw Nicole Richie at Zelda’s.
The anniversary party will pay homage to those years by playing 80’s music and inviting back the DJs that worked the parties in the 80’s such as DJ Dynamic Dave, Jammin’ Jim, Craig Michaels, Bob Scatch and Randy Johnson. The current DJs, The Bigster, DJ SupaJames/97.7, DJ Markus Area, DJ-MC Ron T/97.7, DJ Tanner and DJ LF will take over later in the night.
Zelda’s continues to be successful and is often filled almost to capacity, which caps at 700 guests. McCormick also thinks that there have been more guests in the last few years, as Palm Springs and the surrounding cities create more events for the tourists. “We feel the resurgence of Palm Springs, absolutely. We’re number two in the nation for the bachelorette destination, of course, Vegas being number one. We still do the all-male revue show ‘The Men of the Hollywood Strip’ every Friday night and we are sold out every Friday night for the show. There is definitely a resurgence of Palm Springs, with all the new building downtown going on and the hotels,” he says. The all-male revue, in which costumed men do a dance routine, is the most popular event at Zelda’s right now, and McCormick says there is nothing else like it in the valley.
McCormick is committed to carrying on the legacy of success, saying, “I think what contributed [to Zelda’s success] is that we’ve always stayed very very customer-oriented,” McCormick says. We treat our customers like family. In the past… couple years here, we’ve hired David Mariner for GM. My own sons, Cody and John, have also started working at Zelda’s… they’ve both stepped up to the plate and… we always bring young new thinking into Zelda’s. We change with the times, we change with the dress codes, we change with the music. We’re right now in the middle of a remodel. Everything we can do to keep Zelda’s fresh for our customers.”
This combination of tradition and progress seem to be working, as the Facebook page for the event is filled with comments by people who are coming from out of the state for the party, and McCormick says he’s gotten calls of that nature as well, and the approach will likely take Zelda’s through more anniversaries to come.
The 40th Anniversary party will take place this Saturday, March 11 and starts at 8pm with no cover until 11pm.