After 45 years of Fiesta parties, political gatherings, and celebrations of every ilk, Cadillac Bar on South Flores Street opened one last time this weekend—not to serve drinks or food, but for a liquidation sale.
Owner Jesus “Jesse” Medina held the sale Friday and Saturday after deciding to close the bar, which has been largely shut down since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, for good. Items sold included large saloon-style bars, tables and chairs, neon signs, and tableware.
Medina, who started working at the establishment as a waiter and dishwasher in 1975, a year after it opened, couldn’t have imagined his business would come to such an abrupt end.
“When they told us to shut down at the beginning of March, we had one great party and then Monday we were shut down,” Medina said. “It was like (we were in) limbo, like we don’t know what to do because this is 45 years and this place, it’s our whole life.”
Medina, who’s originally from Monterrey, purchased the business from the original owners in 1996.
While Medina is saying goodbye to the Cadillac Bar, he is still hoping that the name will live on elsewhere in town.
The long tenure of Cadillac Bar can be attributed to Medina bringing a unique flair to a regular bar and restaurant that reflected community and San Antonio’s prevalent Mexican culture. In an interview with Medina, he mentioned how early on he brought Tejano bands and artists to the bar to perform, appealing to a demographic that would ensure he would always have a booming business. But the bar did seem to attract diverse patronage, including celebrities such as actors Bruce Willis and Matt Damon, members of the Kennedy family, and Texas’ own Selena. Cadillac Bar also became a staple for many politicians, district attorneys, and judges, with the bar holding large political campaign parties. He also discussed how the Cadillac Bar basically held Fiesta before Fiesta became a city-wide tradition; large dancing parties were held on the back patio. Despite the city ordering them to cease from using the name “Fiesta,” they carried on in celebration for many years.
“Everybody knew each other, even people that come every year from out of town for Fiesta,” says Medina, reflecting on how everyone shared a bond through his parties. “Cadillac Bar is the place to be.”
Much of the success of the bar and restaurant may also have to do with the personable and kind manner of Medina himself. Before he became the owner of Cadillac Bar, he worked as a waiter, bartender, and dishwater, a hard worker who understood what it meant to serve others. Speaking to a couple of former patrons at his liquidation sale, there was nothing but positive feedback for Medina and his generosity.
“I’ve been knowing Jesse for about 40 years,” says Aida Guevara, who celebrated her 70th birthday at the Cadillac a year and a half ago. “I know he has thousands and thousands of friends and customers who love him.”
According to Nany Mancillas, Medina is an “awesome person, very humble and caring.” Mancillas celebrated several birthday parties at the bar and mentioned how he was very accommodating while expressing her sadness to see the place shut down.
In addition to Fiesta parties, Cadillac Bar hosted all sorts of events including birthdays, weddings, and quinceaneras. Elizabeth Aguilar, a music promoter who credited Medina for helping bring in a number of Tejano bands, said she had three of her big birthday parties at the bar and had hoped to see Medina one last time before the bar closed down for good. Juvenal Soto is another patron who had his wedding at the bar while his cousin’s son celebrated his graduation last year.
Cadillac Bar was also popular in that it maintained an atmosphere that was fun but not hectic, perhaps making it easier for people to come together in a comforting fashion. Mark Sanchez had visited the bar for some 30 years when he lived downtown and he had the opportunity to make a lot of friends (he said he hasn’t seen any of his friends since January and no longer lives downtown).
Guevara liked the bar for having good music but also for keeping the peace among patrons.
“You didn’t have to worry about people being ugly and fighting,” Guevara said. “The ambiance was great and Jesse was a beautiful person.”
Medina said he tried to get help, including a small business loan, but to no avail.
“If they would have told me from the beginning that all the bars would not be open till next year, I would have done what I am doing right now, right there and then,” he said.
He said the business could not survive on just serving food, and when they opened two or three times during the pandemic, it was no use.
Medina also expressed frustration about the amount of money corporations were receiving compared to smaller businesses. “We have corporations that got $30-$40 million, and they really don’t need it. I know they don’t need it,” he said.
Despite the uncertainty, Medina is determined to keep the name of Cadillac Bar alive. In his words, he plans to go through legalities to keep the name of the corporation, retain the liquor license, and ultimately set up the bar and restaurant at another location. He is also looking for a temporary job in the meantime. Concerning his liquidation sale, he does not believe he will earn enough money to help himself and his family, seeing it as another way to pay off debt. Some might think the outlook is less than encouraging, but based on previous success and outpouring support, Medina hopes that Cadillac Bar will have a second chance.
“All the people that have been here,” said Medina, “I can’t even count the numbers but this is amazing that there are people that follow us.”
Setting It Straight: Because of a reporting error, this article originally misstated when long-time customer Aida Guevara had her birthday at Cadillac Bar. View our corrections page.
Renee Gonzalez is a freelance writer in San Antonio.