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.
Jared, a member of the Manhattan Sideways team, was eager to share his passion about Socarrat with me when we reached 19th Street. There are two main reasons for the long weekend lines and boisterous, gleeful crowds regularly filling up this sliver of a restaurant: fantastic sangria and socarrat. Socarrat is the crunchy, salty, flavorful crust that forms at the base of a true, well-done paella. This uber-slick Spanish paella bar is the ultimate place in New York to experience this delicious phenomenon. Socarrat also serves a variety of excellent tapas – come during the day and you can get three small plates for $14. Jared has been coming here regularly with his friends since the restaurant first opened in 2008. He generally orders several different paellas, one for every two people, and a pitcher of red and white sangria. He loves seafood, and is particularly fond of the Pescados & Mariscos paella – basa fish, shrimp, cuttlefish, mussels, cockles, squid, and scallops. The restaurant’s signature dish is the Socarrat paella, an interesting mix of chicken, beef, calamari, shrimp, white fish, cuttlefish, mussels, clams, and green beans. There are eight paella options in total, for the carnivores and vegetarians alike, and some really fantastic small plates – spicy shrimp grilled in olive oil and hot peppers and spicy sautéed chorizo sausage with peppers and onions are amongst Jared's favorites. Socarrat has found much success since its opening a few years ago, and now has multiple locations in Nolita and the East Village.
In keeping with the original nautical theme from the 1960′s, each room in the hotel has a porthole window and is decorated with teak wood. In 2014, the hotel’s restaurant La Bottega closed to make room for La Sirena by Mario Batali. The Cabanas, open in the spring and summer, is on the rooftop and offers a welcome reprieve from the city streets when the weather permits.
No matter what time of day we have stopped by Grey Dog, the restaurant is pulsing, but in a quiet, relaxed sort of way. Despite the lines to order food from the menu on the chalkboard and the crowded tables, everyone is calm and content. Apparently, this has been the vibe since two brothers opened their first restaurant back in 1996 on Carmine Street. Today they have expanded to four different locations, each one incredibly successful. The formula seems to be quite simple – a chill atmosphere, easy-going but efficient staff, a menu that covers all of the basics with a bit of a flair, hefty portions and, most importantly, everything tastes great. Beginning early in the morning, there are pancakes, French toast, eggs, homemade granola and coffee being served. As the day progresses, lots of sandwiches, salads and other creative dishes are available for lunch and dinner. Without a doubt, if I lived nearby, I would also become a regular.
Trendy and filled with beautiful people, the Dream Hotel has created quite an aura around it. Sitting in the lobby is certainly entertaining at any hour of the day, but in the evening the action really kicks in. There is a DJ in the lounge area right off the lobby and not far from the entrance is Bodega Negra, with a Mexican menu. Also attached to the hotel is a restaurant called Fishbowl, with a 5000 gallon fish tank behind the bar. On the rooftop, the PHD Club tends to play top 40's music, and downstairs is the Electric Room, which is described as a rock club.
I learned of Agnes B's clothing while in college and studying abroad back in the '70's. Somehow, even then, I knew to appreciate her simple French designs for women. It wasn't until I was much older, however, that I was able to purchase a few of her pieces for myself, and I truly treasure them. It seems that many of Agnes B's stores are closing around the country, but here's to hoping that she can continue here in New York.