This is the latest edition of Who Goes There? a regular feature in which Lost City's Brooks of Sheffield cracks the doors on mysteriously enduring Gotham restaurants—unsung, curious neighborhood mainstays with the dusty, forgotten, determined look—to learn secrets of longevity and find out, who goes there.
Here we are, in sunny Spain once again.
Seriously, what is it with Spain and survival in this town? The Italians may have everyone beat when it comes to sheer numbers of New York restaurants. But when you step down to the level of anonymous, dust-gathering, timecard-punching joints, the Spanish give everyone a run for their money. Two weeks ago, I found myself at Spanish Taverna, the Cantina That Midtown Forgot. Now, here I am at the West Village’s La Sevilla Restaurant for another heaping helping of sangria and the inevitable paella.
To be fair, La Sevilla has more bonafides than many of the other Iberian eateries I’ve visiting in the last two years. The restaurant has been at the corner of Charles and W. 4th Street since 1941, making it one of the oldest Spanish places in town. For two decades before that, the address was an Irish tavern; the wooden ceiling, Art Deco bar and mind-blowingly old-looking wall murals date from that time. (The murals have darkened with time and are obscured with tacky oil paintings. You have to squint in the dim lighting to see them.) One caption: “The Dutch arrive and land on Manhattan to the cock-eyed amazement of the Natives.”
The restaurant has been run by a series of Spanish families since its founding, and has been under the command of Jose Lloves since the early ‘70s. Silver-haired Lloves, in suit and tie, still greets each incoming guest with a somber, slightly weary courtesy. These included plenty of loyal regulars and just as many tourists. La Sevilla apparently feeds off both worlds. Several parties were evident first-timers, gawking at the surrounding, including a foursome of Japanese visitors. Others slapped Lloves on the back and sailed on to a familiar booth in the rear where loved ones awaited. Said one WASPy character in a yellow Tommy Hilfiger windbreaker upon entering, “Two of my daughters are back there.” A gay couple next to me spent half the meal talking in English and then, without apparent reason, communicated solely in Spanish for the remainder of the evening.
With Spanish restaurants of a certain age, paella is always the first item on the menu and the thing recommended by every waiter. I acquiesced and for once wasn’t disappointed. The rice was fresher than usual, the seafood not as rubbery. It was preceded by a decent iceberg salad held in place by a thick, pale wheel of tomato. I was still more impressed by the house sangria, a drink that typically depresses me as a wan, washed-out punch. But this spicy, lively potion had a revitalizing punch. It’s whipped up by La Sevilla’s bartender of 25 years, Roberto. Lloves—whose hair didn’t go gray worrying out payments to pesky landlords; he owns the building—imparted the heart of its secret: “Brandy, prosecco and GOOD red wine.” By my taste buds, plenty of brandy.
— Brooks of Sheffield