By Eleanor Cole
On June 15th, in anticipation of its 150th anniversary, La Nacional-Spanish Benevolent Society will inaugurate its community restaurant. The last surviving remnant of the once vibrant community known as Little Spain, La Nacional was the cultural, charitable and spiritual center for the Spanish and Hispanic community. The renovation, funded almost entirely by donations, has transformed the space—providing for a stylish and contemporary makeover with a nod to the history and tradition of the Society.
The nonprofit has teamed up with some of the top culinary institutes in Spain, sponsoring the visas of the country’s top chefs to create in our kitchen. The society provides each chef with an apartment in their brownstone to draw inspiration from La Nacional’s past and establish a culinary epicenter in New York City for Spanish food. The mission of the restaurant is to offer a classic and inventive Spanish cuisine in an inviting neighborhood setting. As owners of the space, and in adherence to its mission, the society plans to offer top quality cuisine at prices for all to enjoy. It’s a project by the community, for the benefit of the community.
The society’s founders, who came from different parts of Spain, wanted to establish a social center where all Spanish immigrants could find the support that they needed from compatriot residents in New York. The Society became the focal point for Spaniards who needed to find housing, employment and health care. La Nacional continues to be a vital part of the community. While the numbers of immigrants have dwindled, the Society remains committed to its mission, “to promote, encourage and spread the spirit of fraternity and solidarity among Spanish and Hispanic-American residents of this country”. La Nacional is still used by members and neighborhood associations for a wide range of educational events highlighting the cultural vitality of this area: art exhibits, film series, concerts, theatrical performances, readings, lectures, private parties, wine tastings, flamenco and tango classes. La Nacional not only brings together Spaniards, but also other Spanish and English speakers who share the same enthusiasm and confraternity for Spain.