El Chico, Benito Collada, 80-82 Grove Street

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, beginning in 1929, had graced the hottest Spanish restaurant in the city, El Chico.

Founded by Benito Collada, a Spanish immigrant from Avilés, Asturias, El Chico first opened for business on Sullivan Street in 1925, but when the swanky new “Shenandoah Tower” was inaugurated in 1929 on the corner of Grove and West 4thStreet, Collada moved El Chico into the ground floor of this new apartment building.  Apparently a colorful and larger-than-life character, Collada seems to have travelled a great deal as a young man, having visited the Philippines, Mexico, South America and Cuba, before settling in New York.  He was involved in the opening of the Sevilla-Biltmore Hotel in Havana, as well as the Hotel Gloria in Río de Janeiro.  El Chico was something of a museum of Collada’s life, 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.

Benito Collada, owner of El Chico (far right), photo courtesy of Luz Damron née Díaz.

The name “El Chico” was originally a reference 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, with its mosaic tiles relating the adventures of Don Quixote, its coats of arms celebrating Spain’s different regions, bullfight posters and souvenirs, and, of course, colorful murals of Flamenco dancers.  These murals, or at least some of them, are today behind plexiglass panels in the Monster Bar.

Collada worked as an Impresario, booking stage shows with local latin artists as well as with performers from Spain, Argentina, Mexico, and the Caribbean.  He was married to a Puerto Rican guitarist and singer, Rosita Berrios.  In the mid-1930s he apparently branched out and produced shows at other venues, like the Teatro Cervantes in Spanish Harlem.  According to contemporary reviews, he often served as the master of ceremonies at El Chico’s floor shows.  Some credit Collada and El Chico with helping introduce the Afro-Cuban “rumba” into New York’s musical culture.

The restaurant’s tagline was “As Spanish as Spain,” though this in now 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.

During the Spanish Civil War, pro-government Spaniards in New York blacklisted Collada as a Francoist supporter, and as a member of the Casa de España, a Francoist lobby in the city.

For an extensive 1930 review of El Chico, click here.

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5 Responses to El Chico, Benito Collada, 80-82 Grove Street

  1. diannesosa@me.com says:

    Thank you. I am the great niece of Rosita Rios, Benito Collada’s wife and singer at El Chico. I grew up attending dinners at El Chico in the 1950’s and have the fondest memories of these events. The parrot which has quite the history, came to me as a child when Collada and Rosita gave her to us when they retired. I have the greatest of memories sitting with Polly chatting and singing. We have her embalmed entity still with us. A treasure.

    El Chico and the family history that accompanies this historical establishment is a corner stone of our family. We appreciate the recognition you have given. I look forward to visiting the establishment again soon.

    Dianne Sosa

    • espanyu says:

      Amazing memories, Dianne. Where do you live? I’d love to see a photo of Polly! And any other family photos you might have. Do you happen to know if Benito’s official name was “Benjamín”? I’ve found papers that I’m pretty sure refer to him, but they say Benjamín Carreño Collada or Collada Carreño…

      • diannesosa@me.com says:

        I live in Annapolis, MD. I will have to dig up a picture I have of Polly’s embalmed beauty. I have many pictures of Collada and Rosita. As for Collada, his first name was Benito.

        Dianne

  2. diannesosa@me.com says:

    By the way, the photo above that states that Benito Collada at the far right is not him. I will have to send you a picture of him at El Chico.

  3. Teddy Lopez says:

    How legendery. I have been by the place and, it so awesome to think that the great el trio los panchos got their really big start there in 1944. I was trying to locate the place for a few years. Ofcaurse I grew up in new york and, live in new york and, it absolutely fascinates me, intrigues and, overwhelms me to think of this landlmark. The first time I found the place I was allowed to go downstairs where the dance floor still is and, as I got to the dance floor I could just imagine what it must have been like when los panchos would perform there back in 1944. It just killed me. I know there were other great performers that performed there too but los panchos, were los panchos, they were the biggest thing in spanish music and, had even sold more records than some american musical acts. I know Luis Vargas the old flamenco singer whom worked with Sabicas and, some of the greatest flamenco artists os all-times and, he use to tell me fasinating storys about ‘el chico’ and, about dona Rosita and, her parrot and, ofcaurse of Mr. Collada. I think Collada opened up there in 1925 but, I keep trying to know when he finally closed the place. I’ve heard from people like Jimmy Sanz whom I know since 1973, that it was in the early 1970s’ that el chico closed down. I’d like to know the exact year if possible. I am a guitarist-singer-composer myself and, it just knocks me out how this was what we call ‘the joint’ back then of all the spanish nightclubs in the big apple. This was ‘the place’ before the copa cabana. I have always been one for nostalgia and, everytime I pass the place I just imagine it back in the heydays, it really gets to me. Those, were the good old days like they say. I hate that I was too young even when they closed up and, didn’t get to see any shows there. It will live opn in the history of new york as one of the greatest clubs and, spots and, landmarks ever. That I know of, I heard Mr. Collada and, Dons Rosita retired and, went to san juan puerto rico and, lived in a condominium for the rest of their lives. I would have loved to have known them. I know and, played for dona Adela and, her late husband Jack Palanga who knew them. El Chico will never be forgotten and, thanks to Mr. Collada and, dona Rosita and, all the entertainers who performed there and, made the place great and, legendery.

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