A measure of a good bar is its ability to attract a wide range of people. While no single bar will fit the bill for everybody, one Madison establishment stands out in its universal appeal.
The Cardinal Bar and Dance Club, located at 418 East Wilson, is an entertainment destination for all walks of life, even if you happen to be on the fringe.
Fetish Night, held the second Tuesday of each month, is the Cardinal?s most exotic event. Think leather, lace and latex costumes set to the beat of DJ Mike Carlson?s tunes. There is no cover if you are dressed up, but those up for gawking will need to pay a $5 cover.
Although Fetish Night might sound extreme, it has even been known to draw politicians fishing for support. ?Governor Doyle has been by a few times,? new co-owner Corey Lee explains.
The political legacy was established by previous owner Ricardo Gonzalez, who sold the bar to Lee and David Soland this past January. Gonzalez was formerly an alderman, and over the past few decades the Cardinal became a hotspot for fundraisers and campaign events.
More importantly than just a venue, the Cardinal plays a vital role in the community. ?This bar is about the music and people having fun,? adds Lee.
All of which means the bar treats everyone equally, without prejudice. ?We?re not a gay bar, but we are a gay-friendly bar,? Lee reiterates.
The inclusive atmosphere creates an environment that is inviting and different every night. Whether your tastes are electronic music, Latin beats or ?80s hits, chances are you will find something appealing. Cover charges can range from $3-$5, but you can usually find a coupon or get a free pass from their website www.cardinalbar.com.
Set in the historic Cardinal Hotel, the bar has been in operation since 1906. One look inside at the rich wood, original tiled floor, and stained glass, it becomes clear that the Cardinal has the hallmarks of a classic tavern.
The long wooden bar and mirrored backbar is one of the finest in Madison. Rumor has it that the original one-piece beveled mirror was broken in the 1970s by a wife who threw a bottle of PBR at her husband but missed miserably.
While throwing anything is ill-advised, beers ranging from PBR, Capital Brewery, Sprecher, and Bells Two Hearted, are available on tap for $2.50 to $3.75.
In such a setting, however, a cocktail feels more appropriate. Testimony to its Latin draw, Mojito?s tend to be popular. Available for $4.50 to $5, these rum drinks are made with a special recipe.
Absolut Mandarin Presses, priced at $3.50 are popular on Saturday nights, when the entertainment is modern dance music with legendary DJ Nick Nice.
The bartenders are allowed to think creatively and make their own concoctions. ?We will make a new drink almost every night, usually on the fly,? Lee elaborates.
While some of the cocktails ultimately are one of a kind, a few do get names and reputations. One is called Take Me Home. The ultimate composition is up to each bartender, but one variation includes a mix of Stoli Razberi, peach schnapps, triple sec, sweet and sour, cranberry juice, and papaya.
The dance floor is behind the bar in what used to be a dining hall. Dozens of disco balls line the ceiling and, combined with mirrored walls, create a trippy effect when the light show is on in force. A second bar opens in the dance floor on Thursday through Saturday, offering fast convenience while you keep your groove.
The historical, almost conservative setting can throw first-timers for a loop. This juxtaposition is what makes the bar exciting. The Cardinal Bar and Dance Club is a place where anyone can let their inhibitions run free. With all its choices and top-notch talent, you will be pleasantly surprised, and will definitely fit in.
Bartime will be at the State Bar and Grill this weekend, located at 118 State Street. Cheers!
Meet Your Bartender
Bartime?s weekly Q & A at the featured bar
Name: Corey Lee
How long bartending: Over 14 years, at the Cardinal for over eight years.
Other bars worked at: Flamingo, Comeback Inn, and Essen Haus.
Interesting overhead conversation: ?Everything overheard on Fetish Night is interesting — use your imagination.?
Favorite drink to make: ?Anything new on the fly — just ask!?
Favorite drink to drink: Shot of Gentleman Jack
Worst pick-up line: ?Wanna go home and screw??
Bar Philosophy: ?The customer is always right, unless you?re intoxicated.