The website of Monster, a gay nightclub at 80-82 Grove Street on Sheridan Square, tells the bar’s potential patrons that they will be able to dance on the same dance floor and admire the same colorful murals that had graced the once hottest Spanish restaurant in the city: El Chico.
The proprietor of this hotspot was Benito Collada, a Spanish immigrant from Avilés, Asturias. He opened up El Chico for the first time in 1925 on Sullivan Street. However, when the swanky new “Shenandoah Tower” was inaugurated in 1929 on the corner of Grove and West 4th Street, Collada moved El Chico into the ground floor of this new apartment building where Monster stands today.
The name “El Chico” referred to the nickname of the last Moorish king of Granada, Boabdil el Chico, and some elements of the original décor were probably meant to evoke Moorish Spain. But eclecticism –or perhaps Spanish kitsch—was probably the best characterization of the décor. Mosaic tiles relating the adventures of Don Quixote, coats of arms celebrating Spain’s different regions, bullfight posters and souvenirs, and, of course, colorful murals of Flamenco dancers all contributed to El Chico’s nostalgic Spanish atmosphere. Interestingly, some of the Flamenco murals from the El Chico days can be seen in the building, featured behind plexiglass panels in the Monster Bar.
Collada had traveled extensively before coming to New York, and as a result El Chico became something of a museum of his life. The restaurant was filled with objects that generated legends: a parrot that supposedly once belonged to Pancho Villa; a guitar, inscribed to Collada by the legendary Raquel Meller, a bell used to announce the start of the stage show which allegedly had been “salvaged” from a convent during the Spanish Civil War.
The restaurant’s tagline was “As Spanish as Spain,” though this in no way prevented Collada from featuring dishes such as chile con carne or Puerto Rican pasteles or guava with cream cheese on the menu alongside paella valenciana or caldo gallego and other staples of the diverse cuisines of the Iberian peninsula.
-AT (Many pictures need to be transferred from the old espaNYU site)