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.