CARDINAL BAR
A brass beer tapper nicknamed the "mushroom" was added to the bar in the 1980's. The Cardinal Bar, 418 E. Wilson St. in Madison, originally the Cardinal Hotel, is closing. Joseph W. Jackson III - State Journal JOSEPH W. JACKSON III

A fixture of Madison's nightclub scene for 35 years, the Cardinal Bar is a weekend away from its last dance - a victim, a co-owner said, of bad city policies, a bad economy and bad weather.

Corey Rogers, who started as a manager at the dance club in 1996, said that barring 11th-hour help from outside investors, the Cardinal will close for good Sunday.

"It's hard to see 13 years of hard work go down the drain," said Rogers, who has "gotten e-mails from people all over the country" since he began to get news out a couple of days ago about the bar's closing.

Rogers said changes in the way the city regulates bars and nightclubs - including the 2003 smoking ban - and recent bad winters that kept patrons home have contributed to the shutdown.

"It's been a cumulative effect," he said. "With the economy now, that's pretty much the nail in the coffin." The city's smoking ban eliminated 25 to 35 percent of the bar's nightly clientele, he said.

In addition, the nightclub license instituted two years later meant the Cardinal gained a slew of competitors because more bars and restaurants could have live music.

As early as 10 p.m. Thursday at the Cardinal, the salsa music was loud and the dance floor was seeing plenty of action for the bar's last Latin Dance Night. Victoria Gutierrez called the Cardinal an "institution" and a "community pillar" that deserves much of the credit for introducing Madison to Latin music.

Maria Castellanos, a 21-year-old from Las Vegas, was at the bar for the first time with a group of friends. She hopes to attend graduate school at UW-Madison and said she likes the Cardinal's ambiance. "For us, we're looking for a Latin place to dance at, and we can hardly find anything," she said.

Rogers said there are seven years left on his lease, but under its terms he won't have to pay rent after the business closes. He said he has not tried to sell the bar because in today's market, he's not likely to find a buyer. He's heard only rumors of what might replace the Cardinal, he said. "Not a dance club. That's for sure."

But Yaelys Tejeda, 34, who said the bar hosted a fundraiser in 2000 to help raise money so her family could move to the United States from Cuba, isn't convinced it was the end for the Cardinal.

"This place has been a place to go for a long, long time," she said. "I wouldn't be surprised if you hear again about the Cardinal Bar."

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