Apollo Marquez remembers the first do-it-yourself remodeling project he completed as owner of the Inferno.
"There were these square box walls separating the dance floor from the back bar, and you had to walk down a hallway to get from one to the other."
Marquez was 22 in December 1996, when he took over the bar his dad operated as Rosita's at 1718 Commercial Ave. and began tearing down walls, refinishing wood floors and remaking the bars and bathrooms into stainless-steel works of art.
In the process, Marquez built something greater than an open floor plan. Celebrating its 10th anniversary on Saturday, Dec. 16, the Inferno stands as the leading destination for electronic music in the Madison area.
It's the gathering place of choice for an ecletic mix of fashionable club-goers who like leather and lace as much as drums and bass.
What makes the Inferno unique?
"It's set apart by the crowds who come here, by our location and by our staff," Marquez says.
The Inferno's location, northeast of Madison in a commercial strip of the village of Maple Bluff, is miles removed from the hub of the downtown club scene. Until this past July, the Inferno stood in a detached triangle of the town of Burke.
"It was annexed by the village," explains Marquez. "We're the only club in Maple Bluff!"
The Inferno's distance from the rest of clubland has an impact on the people who go there.
"It's a destination for our customers. The first weekend of every month there's an older guy from Pardeeville who comes here and drinks a couple of Berghoff Darks. He's a super-nice guy, likes to talk to people at the bar and likes to people-watch.
"There's one lady in her 50s who drives down here from Duluth on a regular basis just to come to the club."
Which is not to suggest the Inferno is synonymous with middle-aged folk who prefer to sip their drinks. The club's signature event, "Leather and Lace," guarantees a full house the first Saturday night of every month. Predating the barrage of fetish-inspired events that are now commonplace in Madison, "Leather and Lace" has aimed to be a provocative night of high fashion in a safe environment for women and men, gay and straight.
A small group of Marquez's closest friends have helped to stoke the Inferno's fires during its first decade. They include bartender Chad Draheim, who long ago attended Pardeeville High School with Marquez.
DJ Eurotic, a.k.a. Matt Fanale, assembles Wednesday night's HaLO, featuring a blend of electro, industrial, EBM, gothic and retro beats. DJ Whiterabbit and Mike Carlson are mainstay performers.
Reflecting on the Inferno's first decade, Marquez says one of the things he's most proud of is "the fact that it's still there.
"People think if you own a business, you must be rich. That's not true. People think if you don't open until 9 o'clock, you must get the rest of the day off. For the most part, this has been a job for 10 years, but it's worked out. Not a lot of businesses last this long."
Despite the fact that the Inferno's hours of operation are limited to Wednesday through Saturday, 9 p.m. to bartime, Marquez can almost always be found at 1718 Commercial Ave.
That's because he lives in a unit that sits atop the club. He manages five other apartment units on the same property, serving as landlord and handyman. His parents continue to own the building.
"We've actually had the building up for sale before, but it's never moved," says Marquez. "We're going to list it again next year."
The prospects of a sale might be better now, says Marquez, since the address reads Maple Bluff.
What would the sale of the property mean for the Inferno?
"We could rent the space back, or I could imagine opening up in a new space," Marquez says. "I think there would be real advantages to being in a smaller space. When we have 100 people in the club now, it's so big that people think it looks dead. Other places look full with 100 people."
This Friday Marquez will put thoughts of the future on hold. He'll celebrate not just the fact that the Inferno is turning 10, but that "there's no other place in Madison like it."