By Julie Lawrence Special to Published Jul 27, 2006 at 5:36 AM
Ten years ago, Mike Kozak and Jon Schweitzer opened one of Milwaukee's first martini lounges, the Velvet Room. On May 23, the Downtown bar hosted its last party and shut its doors for good.

On Friday, July 21, Kozak re-opened those doors with not only a new name -- Martini Mike's -- but also with a fresh interior design, brand new menu and, despite its sleek look, a much more casual take on the Milwaukee lounge scene.

Taking a wide-open space and breaking it up into several small areas, Kozak has created quite the cozy watering hole. Although the building is somewhat surrounded by Downtown construction and development, the inside provides a cushy oasis with modern design utilizing the colorful contrast of warm chocolaty browns and cool glowing blues.

But don't let all this posh fool you, says Kozak. It's still a pretty casual place to grab a drink or a meal.

"We felt that after being here almost 10 years that it was time to change it up," Kozak says of his new venture. "We had a long, successful run as the Velvet Room, but we wanted something more casual. There's a lot of competition right now with upscale restaurants and we just wanted something that would complement things like Capital Grille, for instance, which is across the street. We want a place that people come to three times a week instead of once a month."

The biggest difference between the former Velvet Room and Martini Mike's, says Kozak, is the price points.

"Everything on our menu is under $12. The Velvet Room was moderately priced, but still a little more expensive than we are now. We're still existing in a cosmopolitan environment but it's very casual food -- sandwiches, burgers, desserts."

At last week's grand opening food sampling party, Kozak says the roast beef and bleu cheese stuffed burger went over quite well, as did appetizers such as shrimp cocktail and bruschetta.

New chef Justin Johnson, a recent graduate of Chicago's Le Cordon Bleu, designed the menu to be simple, but with a variety of little twists that raise the bar on the standard bar food experience.

For now, the lounge opens at 5 p.m. daily and only serves dinner (until 1 a.m.), but Kozak has plans to be open for lunch by September.

And for every bit that Martini Mike's is a restaurant, it is also, obviously, a fully stocked bar and lounge. As the evening progresses, the lights get a little dimmer, the music gets a little louder -- though never intrusive, or even live -- and the nightlife begins.

"We have domestic bottled beer and premium imports, but our focus is definitely on the martinis," Kozak says. And with 50 varieties -- from classic gin to complicated dessert flavors, it should be. The martini list is two very descriptive pages long; bring your reading glasses.

"It's a place for everyone. We've got plasma screens for sports games, billiard tables and affordable food and drinks."
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.”