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.
A group of people gathered in 1948 to form a conservative synagogue. It took them until 1962, when they moved into this building, to find a permanent home. Originally built in the 1860s as the First German Baptist Church and then taken over by the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in 1926, it still has two of the onion-shaped domes from years ago standing high above.
Our Lady of Guadalupe used to be located about one block east at 229 West 14th Street, serving the Spanish-speaking community in what was once Little Spain. We found it interesting that almost all of the signage inside, decorated in a soft turquoise, is presented without translation into English.
Since 2009, Melissa has found huge success with her tiny sweet treats. She has already opened multiple locations in key areas around Manhattan, including 14th Street. Not only do these mini cupcakes look enticing, but each morsel is a delicious, decadent pleasure. At this bakeshop, good things really do come in small packages.
A native New Yorker with over thirty years of industry experience, Darren Rosa is the owner of Rising Dragon Tattoos. He is proud of his hometown, and would not think of having a shop anywhere other than “the best” city in the world. Raised in Washington Heights, Darren recalls living a fairly “sheltered” adolescence because his artist mother did not want him out on the streets, exposed to the drugs, gangs, and violence of the 1970s and 1980s. Instead, he spent his time indoors, watching his mom complete her projects. From there, Darren admits he is not certain how much was nature and how much was nurture, but he developed a strong affinity for art, always painting and sketching, which he acknowledges “wasn’t good for [his] grades. ”While in college as a pre-med student, he decided to test out a new artistic medium and picked up a tattooing kit - the same kit that he then used to create custom designs for people in his childhood bedroom, making him one of New York City’s first tattoo artists. Out of respect for his mother – who was trying to study for a master’s degree - Daren moved his operation out of Washington Heights and up to an apartment in Inwood. However, the new spot was a long train ride for many of his clients, and he knew that “the action” was downtown in the “groovy” Union Square area, so he relocated again in 1992 to 19th Street. When 1997 rolled around and tattooing became legal in New York City, Darren figured he would need a ground-level storefront to meet demand, so he moved into the notorious Hotel Chelsea. He stayed there until finally landing on 14th Street in 2008, the present location of Rising Dragon. I asked Darren if he ever spent time around Union Square when he was growing up. A wave of nostalgia glossed over him as he smiled and disclosed that he had bought his first boombox nearby, back when the neighborhood was packed with haggling electronics retailers. Though the neighborhood has changed dramatically since then, Darren affirms that the move was good for business. Without too much competition on the street, his clients do not have to “price shop” and the environment is more relaxing. As I walked around Rising Dragon, I noticed quite a number of Japanese artworks on the wall, which Darren displays to honor the Japanese reverence for nature and their “complete language for covering the body, ” with timeless subject matter and “passionate symbols” that speak to the soul – inspiration for any artist. I also observed how clean Rising Dragon was. Darren explained that many fail to realize tattooing is much like a surgical procedure, so at Rising Dragon they take great care in preparation to ensure cleanliness and professionalism. The “family” of seven to eight resident artists – depending on how many guests they are hosting at the time – all do homework, practicing designs in advance, boasted Darren. To them, it is not about money; it’s about dedication. Darren confessed that in New York “tattooing’s more complicated now” than it was when he first started. The introduction of technology has made images of designs readily available to clients via Google and Instagram, forcing artists to broaden their repertoire. Darren finds that these days seventy-five percent of his clients request tattoos of lettering, words, and phrases. He finds that the increase in text is “a reflection of our time. ” With literal “text as a message gaining importance, ” it is something people want to carry with them on their bodies. With such a commitment to excellence, anyone could feel comfortable entering Rising Dragon. Darren shared that until a few years ago, it had always been a dream of his for a celebrity to walk through the doors, more specifically either one of his favorite actors and fellow New Yorkers, Robert De Niro or Al Pacino. One day, he got a phone call from the receptionist alerting him that a young man had come in with his father to get a tattoo. The father turned out to be none other than Robert De Niro. Darren said he “tried to play it cool, ” but was too giddy, so he and De Niro spent the son’s session talking about their mutual affection for New York. Even though he’s already met one of his major life goals, Darren assured me he is not going anywhere, giving clients the security to form lasting relationships with their tattoo artists. On behalf of Rising Dragon, Darren firmly asserts, “We’re New York and we’re here to stay. ”
Joe's, a welcome addition to 14th Street, is a classic family-run pizza place that started in Greenwich Village in 1975, and one that many of us have frequented. Hanging on the ceiling are Tiffany lamps taken from their original shop that was on the corner of Bleecker and Carmine for thirty years. When they moved down a few doors, Joe kept the ovens, tiles, and lamps, many of which are now being used on 14th Street. Sal, Joe's grandson, assured us that the pizza is his grandpa's original recipe - traditional pizza that is charred a bit on the bottom and topped with homemade tomato sauce and fresh slices of mozzarella. "Simple is key, it's all in the pie, " is how Sal described his philosophy to us. We are so glad that the two men have decided to make this side street the new home of their first expansion in almost forty years.
Wigs began in the basement of the former Jonas department store back in 1990. Frank took over his dad's shop in 2004 and went on to expand it to the present location. The initial concept was to be a beauty supply store, but over the years the emphasis shifted to everything hair. Today, this store is absolutely awesome. There is nothing that we could think of relating to hair that was not on a shelf. And wigs are everywhere - in every style and color imaginable. Frank has definitely cut out a niche for himself in several markets. Most importantly, he and his staff work with cancer patients, even accepting their insurance. His other customers include Broadway performers, strippers, drag queens, business women, and Halloween celebrants. All in all, Frank seems to have garnered a significant customer base over the years with his array of wigs.