Located on the first floor of the historic Cardinal Hotel apartments, the Cardinal Bar has been in operation for most of the time since the building was erected in 1908 (it was closed during Prohibition from 1919 to 1933.)
The Cardinal Hotel was the last and the largest of Madison’s railroad hotels and for many years it was a favorite for railroad men and travelers headed for King Street and the Capitol. It had a spacious dining room and a beautiful tavern which still retains most of its original features.
In 1974, Ricardo Gonzalez leased the premises, remodeled the old dining room into a dance floor and turned the Cardinal into the first disco in Madison. It immediately became a favorite of Madison’s burgeoning gay community and dwellers from the near-east-side Willy Street neighborhood, with its assorted mix of political activists, bohemians, artists, students and hippies.
Over the years, the Cardinal developed a uniquely eclectic style, introducing Madison for the first time to elements of world and Latin music and culture. We pioneered most of the dance trends of the past three-and-a-half decades, among them disco, salsa, new wave, house, techno/trance, dubstep and world music, with DJ’s from all over the USA and abroad spinning their magic on the Cardinal’s turntables.
Another feature that has made the Cardinal very special has been its commitment to the community, offering its space to various organizations, causes and political candidates for benefits and community events.
Most importantly, the Cardinal is simply a beautiful place. The authenticity of its stained glass windows, terrazzo tile floor, mahogany bar and wainscoting, accented with brass light fixtures, make it one of a kind. People fall in love with its harmonious period décor. The dancing area, with its new hickory natural wood floor, is separate from the main bar room, providing customers with quieter zones for mingling and conversation.
Without a doubt, the Cardinal is the most written and talked about night spot in Madison, with a well-earned reputation for the quality of its music, service and libations. Its state-of-the-art sound system, built and supervised over the years by Dantech Systems, aims to create a crisp and sweet sound instead of just loudness.
In October 2009, following three months of renovation, the Cardinal opened its doors once again for yet another debut as Madison’s Classic Dance Bar. The new entertainment program includes more live music, with Jazz on Tuesday nights, a live happy hour on Fridays and live shows on selected Saturdays and Sunday nights. As always, Latin dance music is offered on Thursdays and now on Saturdays as well, while Wednesdays remain solidly on the cutting edge of electronic dance music.
As we approach completion of our fourth decade as an entertainment and dance club, we still feel the enthusiasm of the first years and will continue our trademark offering of new and diverse local acts.