Cancel the wake. "The Cardinal Bar will live," says Ricardo Gonzalez. As of Tuesday morning, the erstwhile proprietor of the landmark Madison nightspot is once again at the helm and expressing grand ambitions for returning the Cardinal to its glory days as a dance bar.
Citing factors including the recession and the city smoking ban, the bar's recent owners shuttered the Cardinal earlier this month. "This just kind of hit me," says Gonzalez, 62. "Places come and go, but the Cardinal, even when it goes, it comes back."
Gonzalez himself has been responsible for at least a couple of earlier renaissances, first in 1981 following a fire, and five years later after extensive remodeling. He bowed out at the end of 2003, passing the bar to a new generation.
"When I sold the place five years ago, there was a clause that if there was a default in payments it came back to me, and that's what's happening," he explains. The building is owned by Cardinal Associates, he notes an LLC in which he is a partner.
"I'm happy to get back into it," says Gonzalez, who does indeed look delighted. During a chance encounter on the Capitol Square, he appears rested, relaxed, recharged and perhaps 10 years younger than his age. "I'm in very good health, in good form," he says.
"We're gonna keep it closed for about two months and do some restoration and remodeling," he says. He envisions a small kitchen to facilitate the serving of tapas, but insists it will not be a full-fledged restaurant. "Nothing like that," he says. "The Cardinal will be a dance bar while I'm alive." He hopes to reopen by September.
"This is the part that I love the most," he says. "Putting it together, decorating, hiring a whole new staff." It is the antidote to the emotions he felt at the news the current proprietors would be closing the Cardinal. "The RIP, all that stuff was really bothering me," he notes.
Gonzalez expresses a modicum of trepidation regarding the bar's daily operation. "The tough part is running it every day," he allows. "We'll just have to play that by ear. I'll be general manager," he adds, suggesting the role may afford him the latitude he needs to pursue his work with the Madison-Camagüey Sister City Association and with Cuban-American relations. "Everybody has expectations for what is going to happen there," he says. "When the travel ban is lifted, we'll be taking groups again."
Amid all this, "I'm trying to be calm and not stress out," Gonzalez says. "My inspiration, really, at this time, is my parents, because when we came from Cuba they were 60, and they had to rebuild their lives. My father worked harder between 60 and 70 than he ever did in his entire life." Applying some measure of that ethic to the Cardinal's resurrection will, he hopes, render it "a beautiful dance bar again."