By OnMilwaukee Staff Writers   Published Mar 14, 2003 at 5:36 AM Photography: Molly Snyder

The cosmic forces must be on our side. We predicted it here first, folks, and our fortune is finally coming true. Zodiac Luxury Lounge (201 W. Mitchell St.), a whimsical, creative and entirely non-smoking bar opened its doors to the general public on Fri. March 14.

Owners Renee Bebeau and Harvey Opgenorth have had two years to plan every last detail of their bar which all stemmed from a '50s occult classic movie they saw together, "Bell, Book and Candle."

Starring Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak, the movie features a bar called the Zodiac, with a beatnik lounge where witches feel free to hang out, French poetry abounds and the bouncer is a turbaned man who determines whether signs are favorable for patrons to enter.

With help from a lot of friends, Bebeau, a bit of a cosmic junkie herself, and her sweetie Opgenorth, a designer with a degree from MIAD, made the perfect combo to bring their own Zodiac bar to life.

"We wanted to make it fun, and we had a bunch of ideas after the movie," says Opgenorth.

Fun at The Zodiac won't be a problem, with events like Pajama Jammy Jams Liquid Brunch Dance Party USA, designed to, "kill the Sunday blues." Lasting from 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. every Sunday, there will be two-for-one drink specials for all patrons clad in PJs. A liquid brunch with Mimosas, Bloody Mary's and Harvey Wallbangers will be added fuel for the day-long dance-fest.

Every new and full moon of the month will be honored with its own party and special drinks. The Zodiac staff will all don wigs during every full moon celebration and encourage customers to do the same. Connection? "The full moon is totally unpredictable," says Bebeau. "So it's a wig-out night."

If it's your birthday, The Zodiac will celebrate with you by offering a complimentary choice of one of their Simma's desserts, like chocolate covered cheesecake, chocolate mousse cake, carrot cake and lemon mousse.

You'll also get one of Zodiac's special cocktails, named after each monthly sign. The earthy bull of a Taurus will enjoy a refreshing drink made from southern comfort, grenadine and apple juice. While the Scorpio settles for nothing but the best with a rich combo of cognac, Chambord and tonic.


Other specialty drinks will include martinis like "Miss Cleo," "Potion Number Nine" and "Piewhacket," named after witch Kim Novak's kitty in the film. Fresh and healthy appetizers will also be served, including steamed artichokes drizzled with oregano oil and creamy dill dip, a cheese plate served with fresh breads and fruit, and a soup du jour from Zodiac's steamy cauldron.

Mid-century modern sums up the lounge's design, which uses playful but simple lines to mix genres from the '50 and '60s. Hanging swag lamps, collected by Opgenorth since initial planning began, and 16 feet of blue-tufted vinyl booths from an old disco on Holton Avenue add to the retro feel.

"It has a Dobie Gillis, tiki, pulp-fiction novel, Polynesian, with a little bit of bowling alley feel," says Opgenorth.

The bowling alley part actually fits in with the history of the building, built in 1889. Following a fire in the '60s, a new addition was added with the intention of creating a bowling alley.

"But it was just a few feet too short," says Bebeau. Opgenorth used this element as an opportunity and incorporated the diamond relief walls in the lounge area of the bar.

Along with all the fun details, Bebeau and Opgenorth say they also thought hard about the things in bars they don't like. Out of those thoughts came the decision to make the bar a non-smoking place, but Bebeau says they promise to make provisions for smokers who want to step outside for a puff.

"When you get 60 people smoking in a room, it gets pretty intense," says Opgenorth. More than making an anti-smoke statement, the two say they just wanted to provide a fun alternative to bar-goers that doesn't end with stinging eyes, smelly clothes and a worsened hangover from all-night smoke inhalation.

Along the same lines, Opgenorth says they'll also keep the bar's upbeat jazz, lounge, soul and funk music at a moderate level, so patrons can have conversations without the obligatory, "What?" every other sentence.

Crystal ball and tarot cards aside, it doesn't take a psychic to realize this spunky lounge is a refreshing addition to Milwaukee's city scene.