By Damien Jaques Senior Contributing Editor Published Jun 02, 2011 at 11:19 AM

For many of us, summer officially begins tonight with the first Jazz in the Park concert of 2011 at Cathedral Square. It also marks the opening of the new Belmont Tavern a half block away at 784 N. Jefferson St.

With an art deco look designed by Scott Genke, the Belmont is Mike Vitucci's newest venture, and he located it in a 2,000-square foot space that was formerly occupied by a women's apparel shop. Vitucci also owns Whiskey Bar in the neighborhood, and Caffrey's Pub and Murphy's Irish Pub near the Marquette University campus.

The new tavern's name is an homage to the old art deco Belmont Hotel, which was razed in 1997 to make room for the Frontier Airlines Center. The bar features brown and tan earth tones.

Etched back-lit mirrors with walnut wall panels rotate through a palette of 40 colors. The entire glass storefront opens to the Jefferson Street sidewalk on summery days, and patio seating is available.

Button-holed at a pre-opening party Wednesday night, Vitucci said the Belmont is meant for the 30 and older demographic. "We want people to stop here after work before the long drive home," he explained. After the sun sets, the bar's dramatic interior lighting takes full effect.

Fresh fruit-infused cocktails will be the specialty, and they will also be offered in non-alcoholic versions. Mocktails.

The newly opened Indian and Thai restaurant Zaafaran will soon provide small plate and finger food to Belmont customers. "We share a common area outside of our back doors," Vitucci said.

Piano man Joe Hite performs on Wednesdays and Thursdays.

The Belmont Tavern's website is under construction, but the bar can be found on Facebook.

Damien Jaques Senior Contributing Editor

Damien has been around so long, he was at Summerfest the night George Carlin was arrested for speaking the seven dirty words you can't say on TV. He was also at the Uptown Theatre the night Bruce Springsteen's first Milwaukee concert was interrupted for three hours by a bomb scare. Damien was reviewing the concert for the Milwaukee Journal. He wrote for the Journal and Journal Sentinel for 37 years, the last 29 as theater critic.

During those years, Damien served two terms on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, a term on the board of the association's foundation, and he studied the Latinization of American culture in a University of Southern California fellowship program. Damien also hosted his own arts radio program, "Milwaukee Presents with Damien Jaques," on WHAD for eight years.

Travel, books and, not surprisingly, theater top the list of Damien's interests. A news junkie, he is particularly plugged into politics and international affairs, but he also closely follows the Brewers, Packers and Marquette baskeball. Damien lives downtown, within easy walking distance of most of the theaters he attends.