When Paul first opened his business in 1973, he did not sell or repair a single watch; he did not even know how. Paul started out in the East Village doing picture framing, and eventually expanded to selling antiques. But one day, a passerby changed Paul’s business entirely. An old Jewish man - broke from gambling too much - walked into Paul’s shop, claiming to be skilled at fixing watches, and proposed that the two do business together. Paul agreed, designating a small bench in his shop for the man to work on one condition: that he teach Paul the trade. Gradually, the business shifted from picture framing to mainly watch repair. Paul’s son, Philip, who had been instructed in watch repair since the age of eleven, took over in the 1990s and currently owns their latest location, which is shared with a furniture restorer. The pairing is a good one, according to Philip, who explained, “Everything matches up because we both sell antiques and brick-a-brack. ”The space is modest in size, the walls adorned with select antiques that Philip continues to sell. Large glass cases display hundreds of timepieces, ranging from pocket watches to wristwatches. Many of these carry significant history, passing from owner to owner since the 1890s until battery watches became trendy in the 1960s, while others are more modern and recently manufactured.
Beneath the Spanish Benevolent Society lies La Nacional, one of Manhattan’s most authentic Spanish restaurants and the most easily accessible part of the society. Just by walking down the steps into the dimly lit basement lounge, we felt the bustle of 14th street quickly recede and we were transported across the ocean. La Nacional has the same relaxed, no frills atmosphere as most tapas bars in Spain. We gazed at the old photographs from the society’s earlier years on the walls and then had the option of sipping a drink at the bar, sampling some classic simple Spanish tapas such as tortilla de patatas, croquetas or chorizo, or dining on a full meal of paella. Perhaps the most authentic option, though, was to simply have a seat by the television to watch the fútbol game - it is always on. For visitors from Spain who want a taste of home, those of us pining for the Spanish travels of our past, or New Yorkers simply curious about a new culture, La Nacional is the place to go.