Places that Matter

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Little Spain and La Nacional Social Club & Restaurant

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La Nacional front with flags, Elena Martinez
La Nacional front with flags, Elena Martinez
La Nacional exterior plaque, Elena Martinez
La Nacional entrance, Elena Martinez
La Nacional interior, Elena Martinez
La Nacional interior, Elena Martinez
Spanish-speaking New Yorkers have long gathered here
Place Details »

Place Matters Profile

La Nacional, located in "Little Spain," is the oldest Spanish restaurant in New York City, and according to its current owner, Jesus "Lolo" Manso, the 2nd oldest Spanish society still in operation in North America.

239 W.14th St. (bet. 7th and 8th Avenues), open daily from noon to 11pm, 212-243-9308.

Go through the nondescript downstairs door and you come upon the area where old timers drink a glass of wine or cup of coffee while watching soccer on TV. Or get a table in the restaurant proper and try the tapas or the paella for which the restaurant is famous. (Upstairs from La Nacional is a place rented out for music events (salsa, tango, flamenco), but it has no connection to La Nacional and does not serve its food.)

"The snow of Manhattan blows against billboards / And carries pure grace through the fake Gothic arches."

The famed Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca wrote these words during his stay in New York from 1929 to 1930. His poem, "The Birth of Christ," wasn't translated into English until a few years after his death in 1936 (he was a casualty of the Spanish Civil War). While living in New York City, Garcia Lorca spent a lot of time near Columbia University where he resided and took classes, but it is rumored that he also visited the Spanish social club, La Nacional, on 14th St. Along with Garcia Lorca, La Nacional is said to have also hosted such illustrious guests as Spanish director Luis Buñuel, who was in exile from his country during the 1940s, as well as the Spanish poet Antonio Machado.

It would not be surprising if Garcia Lorca and Buñuel spent time in and around La Nacional. The area of Manhattan where it is located was once called Little Spain and was the center of Spanish life in New York City. Immigration from Spain to the United States reached its peak between 1905 and 1920. Organizations and stores that provided services and goods to the Spanish immigrant community included the settlement house Casa Maria, St. Raphael’s Spanish Immigrant Society, and Our Lady of Guadalupe Church* (formed in 1902, it is now is consolidated with St. Bernard’s) which was the first Spanish-speaking Catholic parish in New York City. They all were located on the same block of 14th St. and constituted the heart of Little Spain. Nearby were the Spanish American Worker’s Alliance, the Hotel Espanyol, and other businesses serving the Spanish immigrants. As the Spanish community declined, and other Spanish-speaking communities moved in, such as Puerto Ricans and Mexicans, new institutions like the Spanish-language bookstore Macondo and the Asociacion Tepeyac de New York (named after the hill outside of Mexico City where the Virgin of Guadalupe was sighted) opened. What still remains after all these years is the social club and restaurant we know as "La Nacional."