The Cardinal Bar, a legendary former community hub and dance club, is coming back thanks to five partners who want to reestablish it as a welcoming place for the LGBTQ+ community in Madison. What was once a cultural, political, musical, and artistic hub for 42 years on East Wilson Street closed in 2017 when the former owner, Ricardo Gonzalez, decided he was ready to retire. The space was then taken over by Mike Eitel with his Nomad World Pub, which moved to the former Brickhouse BBQ spot and has since closed.
The five partners (Andy Hansen, Allison Lenz, Dustin Lenz, Anthony Rineer, and Carrie Tobias) all had an emotional connection to the old bar and felt its loss in 2017 created a void in the larger Madison community. Hanson, a musician, experienced it as a musical hub, playing numerous DJ and live band sets in the old space. “I was introduced to a lot of different cultures and all that. It was just a big community hangout,” he told the Wisconsin State Journal.
Allison Lenz connected with the original bar because of the Latin Jazz scene there, and its status as a place for neighborhood and political meetings—as well as music—both of which led her to join the project a year ago. “What attracted me was the community of the space, a place where people could be free, a place where people could have conversations,” she said. “And Ricardo was really, really good at that. And he held a lot of community events there.” Rineer and Tobias connected in a different way, attending the fetish nights and EDM parties.
These connections reflect the diversity within the community, and with new LGBTQ events led by Carrie Tobias, such as drag bunches, the space has potential.
With a goal of opening as soon as October, these five have their work cut out for them. Because the place was built in 1912, they can’t do much except restore it, but according to the Wisconsin State Journal, “Lenz said they’ve worked with Gonzalez over the past year to define the new bar’s identity. ‘We want to do a lot of the same things with Ricardo’s blessing, and we want to make it our own as well.’”