By Julie Lawrence Special to Published Nov 09, 2006 at 5:36 AM
Joe Zanotti is a rock and roll guy. But Club Havana, the salsa dance club and cigar bar at 789 N. Jefferson St. that he owned and operated for the past five years, was, quite obviously, anything but rock and roll.

One of the perks of owning your own bar, however, is possessing the power to decide how it operates, and with that, Zanotti shifted his establishment into a different gear -- one packing a bit more of a punch.

As of the last week in October, Club Havana was dust in the wind and by Friday, Nov. 3, the Bad Genie Rock Lounge was ready to rock.

"We needed a change down here," he says. "I just felt like cigars had run their course, so I decided that I was finally going to turn this place into something that I've always wanted to turn it into. Nobody is really doing rock and roll (in Milwaukee) and it was always a passion of mine to do a classic rock and roll bar."

Like rock and roll itself, the changes to the fairly large bar are anything but subtle. Rich red walls hold several striking paintings of music icons without who rock as we know it might never have happened. Mick Jagger, John Lennon and Jimi Hendrix hang out in the front bar, David Bowie looks over the upper lounge and Frank Zappa heads the stairwell leading up to the (free) pool lounge.

Club Hanava had been closing five nights a week during October while Zanotti and crew revamped the interior into a little slice of rock heaven.

"It turned out exactly how we wanted it to -- this is how rock lounges in the '60s and '70s looked," he says, referencing the lamps built into the bar, the pillows and the couches. "We've lost all the romance with all these new places that open. There's no romance, no character, nothing to grab onto. It has to look a little rough, yet comfortable and warm and you gotta have the music."

The music is predominantly classic rock pumped out through a dynamite new stereo system, although he says he plans to "play to the crowds," and if it takes a little Oasis to do so, then so be it.

The logo -- a "bad" genie inside of a martini shaker -- is one that Zanotti says he found while perusing an old martini book, and dates back to the 1930s. But don't let the shaker fool you -- this is not a martini lounge, it's a rock and roll lounge. It is so rock, in fact, that the handful of martinis it does offer have clever rock icon names: Jimi Hendrick's Experience (made, obviously, with Hendrick's gin), Apple martini, a tribute to Apple Records, a Moody Blues and another Jimi nod, the Purple Haze.

The word that Zanotti uses to describe his martini selection is "old-school."

"We're going back to the basics. If you want gin, you're getting Bombay Sapphire. If you want vodka, you're getting Kettle One -- none of that lemon-raspberry stuff. We're not going there."

Bad Genie Rock Lounge's grand opening party is set for Friday, Dec. 1, but you don't have to wait until then to enjoy $2 bottles of Pabst and the rock of ages.
Julie Lawrence Special to staff writer Julie Lawrence grew up in Wauwatosa and has lived her whole life in the Milwaukee area.

As any “word nerd” can attest, you never know when inspiration will strike, so from a very early age Julie has rarely been seen sans pen and little notebook. At the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee it seemed only natural that she major in journalism. When offered her an avenue to combine her writing and the city she knows and loves in late 2004, she knew it was meant to be. Around the office, she answers to a plethora of nicknames, including “Lar,” (short for “Larry,” which is short for “Lawrence”) as well as the mysteriously-sourced “Bill Murray.”