By OnMilwaukee Staff Writers   Published Nov 21, 2009 at 3:19 PM
Change is inevitable and, with all the changes occurring along Old World 3rd Street, Russ Davis decided it was time to make one of his own.

Davis opened Cafe Vecchio Bar & Grille in 1996. He closed that establishment a few weeks back and recently reopened it, now as The Red Accordion.

"There is so much happening on the street and people in the city like change," Davis says. "With the opening of the new (Aloft) hotel and the Moderene (condominiums), I thought this was the time to make a change."

This new incarnation distances itself from the more upscale Vecchio Bar & Grille. The front bar is a casual place for people to grab a drink before a game at the Bradley Center but there is a well-appointed dining area in back.

In between the two sections are private booths, sheltered from the walkway with red velvet curtains. Each of the booths also include individual flat-screen televisions, complete with private remote controls.

"I think it'll be a good place for a quiet night to hide away with a significant other," Davis says. "But at the same time, it's the kind of place that, if people can also come play game of darts or watch games on television, you have the front area to work with."

In thinking of a new concept, Davis says he had two ideas in mind. But with the nature of Old World 3rd Street, and it's growing influx of culture and history, he decided this was the way to go.

The bar is low on theme, though the red-painted walls ("Lusty Red," as explained by a server) stands out. In an effort to create a comfortable feel for sports fans, quotes from famous sports celebrities are displayed on the walls and there is also the usual selection of bar games like Golden Tee and dartboards.

Also, a number of, obviously, red accordions also adorn the place, and ode to the name ... which has a personal meaning for Davis.

During the streets heyday as the center of Milwaukee's German population, the building housed a musical instrument shop. Davis explains that his aunt had visited the old restaurant once and recognized the building.

After a little while, she realized Davis' grandfather - an accomplished musician - had purchased a number of accordions there. When Davis was searching for a name, it was a no-brainer.

"When I was thinking about a new name, wanted to keep it music related because of the history of the building," Davis says. "This is perfect, it can go both ways.

"It's a name that works well for a regular pub and also works with a high-end restaurant."

In time, the Red Accordion will be open for lunch. Right now, the dining room area opens at 5 p.m. And the menu features non-traditional bar fare; focusing greatly on sliders and other small-plate dining.

Davis is hesitant to call his new venture a "Tapas" restaurant - "though, that's what it is," he says - but wanted to emphasize the small-plate style of dining, and include sliders in an effort to both attract Bradley Center event-goers and those seeking just a light, but filling meal, before a night on the town.

Aside from the sliders, the menu includes items like chilled eggplant and bell pepper dip, baked onion and mushroom philo wraps, crab tarts, pesto shrimp and mini meatloaf. To top it off, all of the menu items are priced under $10.

The sliders come in a variety of styles. There's a classic, three-cheese option topped with thousand island dressing; Reuben sandwiches and even a Usingers brat patty option that comes served on a pretzel roll.

"They're simple sandwiches," Davis says. "Something a little more unique than just a burger."

Davis says the decision to end the Vecchio era wasn't hard and neither was the decision to go the Red Accordion route. What was difficult, though, was his decision to get a jump start on the city's upcoming smoking ban, which goes into effect next summer.

The Red Accordion is a smoke-free venue.

"We struggled with that," Davis says. "As a bar owner, smoking kind of comes with the territory. We considered allowing it for the next few months but ultimately decided, with the ban coming, to go smoke-free now.

"I apologize to the smokers, but it's something we had to do sooner or later."

After 13 years, Davis was admittedly somewhat sad to see his longtime establishment go, though he did give it a minor tweaking a few years back. His new philosophy, he says, its to change things up a bit every few years, to keep fresh.

"Thirteen years is a long time for a restaurant," he says. "New generations prefer a change, so I need to keep that in mind."