It’s the end of an era, some bar-hoppers say. Madrina’s, a downtown Gainesville cocktail bar, is set to close its doors for financial reasons after six years in business.
The news became public via an Instagram post Nov. 4. Written by TJ Palmieri, the managing partner and one of three of Madrina’s owners, the post thanked the bar’s loyal customers, bartenders and other staff for all Madrina’s accomplished during its lifespan.
More than 250 local businesses and Gainesville residents commented on the post with well-wishes, red heart emojis and anecdotes of their favorite Madrina’s memories.
Alejandra Zavala, a 23-year-old Miami consultant and UF alumna, wrote that Madrina’s was still her favorite bar even after leaving Gainesville. Compared to the bars in Miami, she said, Madrina’s was more intimate.
“There's just nowhere I felt so welcomed and so appreciated like I did at Madrina’s,” she said.
But people haven’t flocked to the bar in the same numbers since the COVID-19 pandemic, Palmieri said. The announcement might’ve been a surprise for some, he said. But hosting two good nights a week wasn’t bringing in the funds the staff needed to stay open.
“I think one of my partners was having to put a little bit of money in just to make sure we were making payroll,” he said. “It’s just a business decision more than anything.”
Madrina’s opened at 9 W. University Ave. in 2016 but existed as a pop-up spot for a year and a half before that, Palmieri said.
In 2018, Madrina’s was nominated for best new cocktail bar in the East alongside bars in Orlando, New York City and Nashville. It was the first time a Gainesville bar was recognized by Tales of the Cocktail, a foundation that hosts conferences for people in the spirits industry, Palmieri said.
The cocktail bar’s menu featured daiquiris, beer, wine and Zavala’s favorite: the espresso martini.
Zavala celebrated her birthday at Madrina’s in addition to the several times she’d pass through the bar each week before graduating, she said.
“That’s a big sigh — knowing that whenever I do get to come back, they won’t be open and running for me to get an espresso martini,” she said.
Some of the staff, like Palmieri who’d been working from California for the past year and a half, didn’t know the bar was closing until the week of the announcement, he said. Instead, the decision was left in the hands of Madrina’s other two owners.
Though he wholeheartedly agreed with the choice to close, Palmieri said, he might’ve gone about it in a different way. That way, he said, there could’ve been more scheduled time for people to have their last Madrina’s drink. After the announcement was made Nov. 4, the bar posted Nov. 8 that it would hold its last event Nov. 11.
“But also, it's easy for me to say in retrospect, and I'm not the one who's having to sort of flip the business in the meantime,” he said.
Sarah Millard, a 25-year-old nurse at UF Health Shands Hospital, attended Madrina’s final event to say goodbye. Whenever she had visitors in Gainesville, she said, she brought them to Madrina’s.
“The bartenders are super nice and super knowledgeable and are always willing to make basically any cocktail that you can even dream of,” she said.
One of the reasons Zavala said she loved the bar so much was because it was a Cuban-owned business.
“I definitely saw a lot of my culture in their environment,” she said. “Even my first time walking in, I was like, ‘Oh, they're playing Celia Cruz — like, this is Gainesville. This is not something you find very often.’”
Madrina’s was inspired by Palmieri’s Cuban family and his childhood experiences, he said. In Spanish, madrina means godmother — but madrina was also what Palmieri called his grandmother.
Palmieri’s personal ties to the bar, he said, made it difficult to close.
“To see so many people really positively affected by the whole thing,” he said, “it made me feel great — like my grandmother would have been proud of me.”
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Lauren Brensel is a journalism sophomore and a metro reporter for The Alligator. In her free time, she's found going on mental health walks, being silly with friends, hiding from the public and reminding those around her that they did this song on Glee.