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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
Hi Dianne, I’m Teddy who wrote here 5 years ago. Just wanted to thank your family for the memories and, all. Would like to know if you could send a photo of polly and, of Don Collada and, Dona Berrios. Let me know what year ‘el chico’ finally closed down. I heard from Jimmy Sanz the owner of ‘tio pepe’ restaurant up the block from ‘el chico’ on west 4st just before 6th avenue that when he was opening up in 1970 ‘el chico’ was just about closing down, is that true? I was always trying to find exactly where ‘el chico’ was at. Again, I still keep in contact with Luis Vargas the old flamenco singer relic and, he use to tell me fascinating stories of ‘el chico’. If you can send me any memories please do. My phone number just in case is 212-633-8061 and, my cell phone is 917-371-2640. Bless your heart and, thanks for the memories, Teddy.
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.
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.
As the Granddaughter of Ben Collada, I can tell you with absolute certainty, that is NOT a picture of him featured in the photo above.
~Dulce Benita Farmer
Hi, Dulce, would you please send me an actual photo of Don Collada. Sincerely, Teddy.
I am Rosita Berrios great grandniece, I have photos of both Benito and Rosita. Where can I send those? Hi inherited many of their photos from my grandfather Luis E. Berrios when he passed three years ago. I’d love to quote my cousin Dianne, “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.” Well said dear.
Hello — This is so fascinating! Rosita Rios and Benito Collada are names in our local history here in Saranac Lake, NY, in the Adirondack Mountains! Thousands of people from Latin America came here for their health through the early 1950s, and they were friends with a man named Alfredo Gonzalez, who operated a small TB sanatorium for TB patients. See more here: https://localwiki.org/hsl/Latin_American_Patients. In 1948, a “Fiesta Hop” was held. Events included a costume ball; a samba exhibition by Mr. and Mrs. P. J. Serralles (of the Don Q Rum family); and entertainment by Benito Collada, owner of the El Chico Nightclub in New York, famous singer and dancer Rosita Ríos, and Raúl Barragan’s five-piece orchestra. Anyone who would like to connect about this history, feel free to contact me at email@example.com. Thank you!
In a column called “Dream Street” by Robert Sylvester in the Thursday, May 20, 1965 edition of the NY Daily News, Benito Collada apparently wrote a letter stating he closed El Chico a few days prior. He mentions high taxes, union issues and an unsafe NY after dark as some of his reasons. I found the article here: https://www.newspapers.com/newspage/460324833/
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Just found a picture in my mother’s album of her double dating at El Chico in I believe 1943. She and her best friend from Wellesley were double dating with Constantine Constantine Speliotakis, a Greek at MIT, and Gil Arias, one of three sons of the Panamanian president Harmonio and nephew of the more famous Arnulfo–he had his own fame also. The picture appears to be in the same booth as the one above. Happy to send it a copy along to you.
I have a photo taken I think in 1943 of my mother on a date at El Chico, same setting as above. With her are a roommate from Wellesley, Constantine Constantine Speliotakis from Greece and MIT, and Gil Arias, son of Panamanian president Harmonio Arias and nephew of Arnulfo. Happy to send a copy if you want it.
I am Magda Garcia-Wright, my father was Candido Garcia. He danced with Dolores at El Chico’s in the 1930’s my e mail is firstname.lastname@example.org. I wish I had all the pictures I have on my computer. But no! Do you have pictures of Candido Garcia. There was a mural of Dolores & my Dad, Candido, you’d see standing in the foyer at El. Chico
“Went El Chico w/ Danton Walker. Owner was once married to a hostess on ship—he was with Cook’s”. So wrote Eleanor Britton in her diary on Jan 4,1950. She began mentioning El Chico in1931. Walker was a Broadway columnist for the Daily News and a radio host. Please let me know if this information relates to Benito. Thank you.
I am scrapbooking my parents and ancestors pictures. I have a photo of my parents and my aunt and uncle seated in the El Chico restaurant. The photo jacket has a misspelling on the cover ( which is funny that no one caught it before printing. It reads “as Spainish as Spain”.
Do you still have the dishes