Cross Country Influence
Life after Momo's: Austin's influence hits Greenwich Village with subterraneanmusic parlor
In late December, Austin’s music scene was rattled with the sudden closure of Momo’s, downtown's West Side hub for embracing and growing local talent. And while Momo’s has remained closed in Austin, it’s a getting an East Coast reincarnation of sorts in the form of ZirZamin, a new New York City-based listening room.
Founded by former Momo’s owner (and New York transplant) Paul Oveisi, the “subterranean music parlor” opened in April 2012, bringing Austin’s laid back vibe to the Big Apple.
After the shuttering of Momo’s Oveisi, who was already residing in New York, began actively looking for a new space to call his own: a place where he could plant some firm Texas roots in a concrete jungle.
After discovering a “once in a lifetime” space in the Greenwich Village, Oveisi opened ZirZamin, a club named for the Farsi term that not only reflects its physical location, but also the room’s spirit.
“Our focus is to provide a collaborative, funky, intimate room for professional musicians… very much like the underground clubs in the Village back during the beatnik era," Oveisi tells CultureMap.
“Our focus is to provide a collaborative, funky, intimate room for professional musicians… very much like the underground clubs in the Village back during the beatnik era," former Momo's owner, Paul Oveisi
"And not so ironically, like the underground music scene now in Iran as the government has officially condemned most performance and pursuit of live music.”
While ZirZamin draws inspiration from beatnik culture and its underground locale, the club's Austin influence is apparent in everything from the performers on the bill to the food on the menu. But don’t think the inspiration stops at Momo’s; Oveisi is quick to point out that he’s sharing the wealth.
“There’s a bit of the feel of some other Austin joints here,” he says. ZirZamin is a convergence of the Momo's legacy with “the intimacy of the Gallery above the Continental Club," "the funky/sexiness of Justine’s” and “the listening room quality of the Cactus Café.”
Drawing on its Texas lineage, the room was christened by an impromptu, unannounced performance by the Band of Heathens and has since welcomed Austin-turned-Brooklyn residents Suzanna Choffel and Kat Edmonson to its stage. Unofficial late night jams, sometimes with members of Reckless Kelly and Sideshow Tragedy, have quickly become ZirZamin's "thing."
When there’s not live music in the space, ZirZamin’s speakers play everything from Austin stalwarts to unexpected middle-eastern/Latino fusion. Anything that highlights unique collaborations is fair game: odd instrumentation and unusual configurations are "highly encouraged" onstage and off.
In its relatively short existence, the club has become a haven of sorts for Austin ex-pats and native Texans who have made a move up the coast. Many of ZirZamin’s regulars either spent time at UT or have been to ACL, SXSW or some other festival in town.
And if its not the music they're coming for, chances are it's the Texas-inspired food. ZirZamin's fare is heavy on breakfast tacos and burgers, and there's even a Townes VanZandt-inspired cocktail (the Pancho and Lefty) on the menu. The response to the food only requires a one-word descriptor: “ravenous.”
“I’ll be honest,” Oveisi says, "we’ve had a hard time keeping up with the demand for our tacos, burgers and queso.”
“We just thought it would be an accouterment of the club, now it’s becoming a featured item.”
With ZirZamin, Oveisi gets to continue the legacy of one of Austin's most respected venues, while bringing some of Austin’s broader characteristics — good music, greasy food, a stout cocktail — to the City That Never Sleeps. And he wouldn't choose another way to do it.
“The entire culture is in my blood,” says Oveisi. “There’s very little about Austin that is not influencing my vision.”