The Inferno Closes on Madison’s
Success and Determination
|Apollo Marquez operated The Inferno, a
techno-industrial-goth, alternative bar, for 18-19 years with
the support of his parents Rosie and Marcial Marquez.
anyone looking cross-eyed at them.
“When we opened, I was totally unaware that in fact, there were more Latinos in town than I knew,” Marcial said. “I just thought it would be 200
maybe. But I was aghast when I opened up and it was full, standing room only. People learned about it through word of mouth. I just told a few
people that I was buying a place and a lot of them stopped by and visited. Those people, in turn, told other people about it. It was awesome. We
brought it in April 1995 and did a lot of remodeling. We opened on July 1, 1995. I sent out a few invitations to different people, but it was mainly
word of mouth.”
Rosita’s was successful at first. For the first year, Marcial’s brother Ruben managed Rosita’s while Marcial and Rosie helped bartend and
Marcial kept his job with Wisconsin Power & Light. He wanted to keep his options open. And with success came problems.
“Because of a few altercations, the police kept an eye on our place,” Marcial said. “Business was dwindling because of that. And we had a
fight here and there. There was one tremendous fight where it says they attacked me or wanted to attack me. And that point, I went over,
stopped the music and I ran everyone out. I had to go outside with a pool cue. And that was the last day of Rosita’s.”
Marcial decided to give it another try. They closed up for a couple of weeks, repainted the place and opened up as a country & western bar.
“We hired a few bands, but again, it didn’t last long,” Marcial said. “It lasted about five months. The Latinos were still coming in and we had a
country & western crowd and they just did not get along. We almost had the same problem that we had before, so I closed it down.”
When Marcial was first entertaining the thought of opening Rosita’s, he called his son Apollo who was living in Denver at the time. Marcial
wanted Apollo to come back and help out.
“I received a call from my dad when I was living in Denver and he said, ‘I’m going to be an entrepreneur,’” Apollo recalled with a laugh. “’
Would you come back and help?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I’ll come back and help. I owe you guys everything. What are you going to do?’ He said, ‘I’m not
going to tell you until I know.’ He called me back three months later and said, ‘Hey, I bought a bar. Come back.’ That’s how I first started. I grew
up north of Madison, but I wanted to see the rest of the country and maybe the world. I said, ‘I’ll help you for a year, but then I’m going to go.’”
When they closed down the country & western bar, Apollo asked Marcial if he could have a go at it. Apollo had been illegally frequenting the
alternative music bars in Denver and wanted to see if a venue like that would work in Madison.
“I would never say that we were a goth bar,” Apollo said. “We did events that were gothic. But from the start, I did house music on Saturday
nights. If we did anything goth-related, it was on a Wednesday or Thursday. It wasn’t necessarily featured, but most of the crowd was looked at
this way. Industrial was more of an offset from that type of music into the early 90s. We also had techno in a lot of its different forms. We had a
lot of electronic music in general.”
Once again, the bar was repainted; this time in black. They built some random things to make it look smaller up front and built a tiny DJ booth.
And they rented a PA system. They didn’t know how many people to expect when they opened their doors, but apparently, there was a pent-up
demand in Madison for what The Inferno had to offer.
“The first night we opened, we had 283 people come through the door on a Thursday,” Apollo recalled. “It was December 19, 1996. It was pretty
busy. We advertised for two weeks in The Onion, which came out weekly then. I went downtown with Chad and we put up fliers on the kiosks
on State Street. And that was it. There were only a couple of places to look to to advertise back then. It was kind of nice. Now it’s all over the
place. If you wanted to find out what was going on in Madison, the kiosks on State Street had everything and then you had Isthmus or The
Over the years, Apollo, his dad and friends kept upgrading the facilities as funds and time became available. Most of the interior of The Inferno
was hand-crafted, a reflection of Apollo’s artistic flair.
“Rob helped me out with a lot of the design work and the steel stuff,” Apollo said. “Other friends helped as well as my parents. It was always
the idea to save money. Plus, I enjoyed putting my own thing into it anyway. I guess if I was a multi-millionaire, it would be nice to just call
someone up and say, ‘Hey do it.’”
While some of the basic offerings have been constant over the years — Leather & Lace, one of their signature offerings, has been a mainstay
since 1997 — The Inferno has also delved into shows like lube and jello wrestling. They have also had national and international acts come
through like The Red Elvises. But that changed in recent years due to a change in state law.
“We attracted university students for sure the first few years,” Apollo said. “We still get students for different things. It depends. The state law
changed to allow 18+ in venues and the village won’t let me do that, so a lot of the younger crowd, the undergraduates, goes downtown. I can’t
have 18 and under. I haven’t done a whole lot of national stuff in quite a while because of the competitiveness and we haven’t been able to do
18+. I lose out on a lot of those shows to other venues.”
Over the years, it seems that The Inferno has offered everything and anything at one point or another. Apollo has embraced it all.
“None of it is very surprising I guess,” Apollo said. “It all seems pretty normal to me. For years, I’ve thought there are seven billion people on
the planet, so there has to be one of everything. What are the chances that there aren’t? It’s just sheer numbers. Bloodletting is stuff that has
been done throughout history. Pretty much everything that we’ve done in there has been done throughout history somewhere else. We’ve done
it in electronic form or it has been modernized in some way. People have been drinking and going to bars and dancing and partying and being
crazy for millennia. That’s just what humans do.”
And it has had a very dedicated following. When the closing of The Inferno was announced earlier this spring on Facebook, the outpouring of
grief was incredible. The Inferno had found a niche in Madison. In spite of its relatively isolated location, it continued to draw crowds through
“The crowd is fairly captive and they definitely show up for stuff they really want to be there for,” Apollo emphasized. “Our location really
dictates that. I don’t have a lot of walk-up traffic. The crowd that is there is there for what is going on. That makes most of the events pretty
unique from that end. We had a cover charge, which does away random people coming in because they don’t want to pay a cover to see
something they don’t know anything about. We’re a destination venue. I kind of always thought that if we were downtown, we would probably
do better. But here, it’s more of a quality of people than quantity.”
By Jonathan Gramling
Part 1 of 2
Ever since he moved to Madison in the late 1960s and married his wife Rosie,
Marcial Marquez has wanted to open up a Mexican bar. There were just a handful
of Mexican families at the time. It took him almost 25 years, but eventually he
opened up Rosita’s in 1994.
“We had plenty of money to do it, but we didn’t want to put all of our money into it,”
Marcial said. “We just wanted to put enough in to get it started and get our feet
wet. It took me a long time to convince my wife that this was my dream. Finally
she agreed to it and we went in with both feet not looking back. I named it after
my wife to pacify and honor her. The name was very fitting for a Mexican/Latin
place. We still have a lot of bandanas and promotional material that we never got
Rosita’s was a large building on Commercial Avenue just off of Sherman Avenue.
It had nine apartments upstairs and a bar/nightclub downstairs. Marcial wasn’t
sure how many Latinos lived in the area, but he opened Rosita’s because he
wanted to give Latinos a place where they could relax and speak Spanish without