Hidden gem La Nacional has long been one of those rare reasons to cross 14th Street (not that you have to go above 14th, since it’s right there on the north side of the street). So imagine our surprise last week when we ducked in for some authentic croquetas and tortilla and saw “an important message to our community” posted on its wall. The notice from the executive director of the Spanish Benevolent Society announced that Lolo Manso of Socarrat, who for 14 years had been renting the semi-subterranean space from the Society, was packing his bags and a “complete renovation” would start March 1.
Sure enough, the restaurant closed Monday and the overhaul started yesterday. We’re told the walls are coming down to turn what’s now a two-room space into more of a wide-open dining room with a bar and kitchen in back. The announcement says the Benevolent Society, a Spanish cultural institution that was founded on the Bowery in 1868 as a refuge for visitors and expats, will be “teaming up with some of the top culinary institutes in Spain—sponsoring the visas of the country’s best young chefs to manage and create in our kitchen.” Every few months, a new chef will be housed above the restaurant, in the non-profit’s brownstone, so that he or she can put a personal spin on an otherwise fixed, traditional menu. When the new incarnation of La Nacional opens in what’s expected to be mid-May, “we will offer diners quality food, reasonable prices and a neighborhood atmosphere for all to enjoy,” the letter says.
According to Sole Survivor, a documentary about La Nacional, the building at 239 W 14th St, between Seventh and Eighth Avenues, is a holdover from a time when some 15,000 Spaniards populated the area known as Little Spain. (Whether it’s the last survivor is debatable: El Quijote, which opened in 1930, is still doing business inside of the Chelsea Hotel.) The ground floor was originally a clubhouse for members of the Society but opened to the public when it was taken over by Manso (also proprietor of the late, great La Churreria). Over the years, it evolved from a scrappy, brightly-lit place to watch futbol games and play cards with wizened expats to a candlelit romantic hideaway (where, thankfully, you could still watch futbol).
We’re told that the new incarnation of La Nacional will host private and public events inside of the second-floor salon where there are currently flamenco performances and the like.
Here’s the letter.