Cardinal Barthe iconic Madison nightclub from the 1970s to the 2010s, reopens at 418 E. Wilson St. with new owners and a strong sense of nostalgia.
Over the past year, five business partners have reinvigorated one of their favorite places to listen to music, dance and have deep conversations.
The new Cardinal quietly opened on May 23 and will remain in a soft opening until the third week of June, when it will feature a grand opening and a full music routine.
“I was on the verge of tears thinking about how my week was going. It just exceeded our expectations,” said Allison Lenz, one of the partners in the business. “We know people are going to come back. But we don’t know how much warmth they’re really going to bring.”
Cardinal Bar “3.0”, as new owners 2022 Wisconsin State Journal stories presenting their plans, capturing the nostalgia of many eras in the cardinal’s history. There are tiles and glasswork from the earliest iterations of the building, prints that reference the 1970s, and Art Nouveau in the overall design.
New for Cardinal regulars is a late night bar menu, served until closing. Business partner Anthony Rineer has pioneered tapas-style late-night plates—chicken wings, kebabs, empanadas, nachos, relish plates—served until midnight most nights, with bar hours Thursday through Saturday.
For live bands, there’s a new stage designed by Ed Linville, where the back bar used to be, surrounded by mirrors and triangular decorations. The walls were freshly painted. Brass coat hooks are polished to a shine in all rooms, and one of the neutral washrooms has new, ornate vintage wallpaper.
The colored floor tiles in the main bar are the same as the stained glass in the windows. References to the pub’s history can be found everywhere in the rejuvenated Cardinal.
“We wanted to breathe new life into the place,” Lenz said. “The building has its own energy. We wanted to make it as close as possible to the (early 20day century) time period, just to revive it, not try to change it. “
under a historic hotel
The Cardinal Bar is located on the ground floor of the historic Cardinal Hotel, built in 1908 and opened in 1912 to serve travelers from the nearby train station.The East Wilson Street building is located at First Settlement of Madison Just east of the Capitol next to a community that was established in 1837.
The building was designed by local architect and German immigrant Ferdinand Kronenberg.
“The Cardinal Hotel as it was then known included a lobby, restaurant, 60 hotel rooms, and a basement barbershop, now used as business offices,” Gayle Worland wrote in a 2008 Wisconsin Journal article wrote in the article. “Except for the absence of a spittoon,” she writes, little has changed in the barroom in the decades since.
In 1974, Ricardo Gonzalez rented the bar and turned it into a gay-friendly bistro that blended “salsa, sensuality and a social conscience” (according to Cap Times 1993 Doug Moe column), the hotel began to decline. In 1982, the Cardinal Hotel was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 1985, a fire closed the bar for eight months.
Cuban immigrant and activist Gonzalez made the Cardinal Bar famous for dancing and Latin jazz as well as progressive politics.although Gonzalez becomes first openly gay Latino man elected to political office in US (He’s an urban alder.) The Cardinal hosts jazz and political fundraisers, followed by punk nights and “leather and lace” themed parties.
Former mayor Paul Soglin was a regular in the 1970s, even a DJ — “R&B and some wild disco,” according to the Cap Times archives.
Lenz, the club’s current music booker, plans to bring the music back. Look for jazz on Tuesdays and techno nights on Wednesdays. Tony Castañeda’s Latin Jazz Band has been at Cardinal for years; they’ll be back on Thursdays for happy hour. (Happy hour is weekdays from 5pm to 7pm, except Monday when the bar is closed.)
Also on Thursday, Cardinal plans to play funk and disco. Friday will be “a mix of jazz, Latin jazz and blues,” Lenz said. Fetish nights, or “Leather and Lace” nights, are planned every third Friday, with world music on Saturdays and jam sessions on Sundays.
By 2003, Gonzalez had sold Cardinal to two employees at the time and a third partner. After the pub closed in 2009, he resumed ownership and ran it for another eight years.
cardinal Closed again in January 2017 And the football-themed Nomad World Pub has been around for two and a half years. When Lenz, Rineer and three other partners — Carrie Tobias, Lenz’s brother Dustin Lenz and Andrew Hansen — came together, the bar was ready for some loving restoration.
“We all really love this place,” Lenz said. Over the past year, they’ve found a balance in trying to revitalize the bar when construction has been held up for one reason or another.
“It’s really time-consuming to restore it,” she said. “Grinding, staining, polishing and painting…it’s a 115-year-old building. You can’t let these buildings sit. They need love.”
The Cardinal Bar in 2023 Designed to gently renew a beloved institution. There are some familiar faces behind the bar, and there are new non-alcoholic cocktails on the menu, as well as Manhattans and caipirinhas (Cuban classics). Music is returning, although shows may start earlier.
Lenz envisions the Cardinal Bar as a revival of the jazz that tends to flow in Madison. She wanted the music to feel intimate and performed with other venues such as Café CODA and North Street Cabaret.
“The Jazz need help with that,” Lenz said. “People think jazz is boring elevator music, but jazz is so much more than that. That cool improv energy that brings people together because you’re vulnerable in that moment. That’s what jazz is all about, and that’s what we do in An important part of the work being done here.”
Cardinal Associates still owns the building, of which Gonzalez is one. Lenz declined to share how much the updates cost, but said Gonzalez is happy with them. When the new Cardinal Bar opened, “we carried the torch.”
“It was very emotional,” Lenz said. “He was so happy. He looked at me at the end of the bar that night and he said, ‘I’m the luckiest man in the world. You’ve done it. You’ve done it. I’m crying.’
“I think he feels good without him (continuing). It’s flying in the right direction.”