“Some people have been coming here for 30, 40 years and know the menu better than me.”Photo: Melissa Hom
Miguel Hernandez has been a fixture at El Faro since before he could legally drink (his uncle Jose was a bartender there for twenty years, and Hernandez would visit regularly from his native Spain). Five years ago, when he finally moved to New York, Hernandez took a job as a server. Now he splits his time between working the floor and serving margaritas and sangrias from behind his uncle’s old bar. He’s studying for a career in hospitality management; we thought we’d ask him what it’s like working in one of the city’s most timeless (and fragrant) restaurants before he graduates.
Do you still get regulars from when this part of the West Village was heavily Spanish?
Some people have been coming here for 30, 40 years and know the menu better than me. This couple told me their family had been coming here for four generations, and I didn’t believe them. One night I see them all come in; the guy said, “We had our first date here; we got married; this is my son, this is my grandson…”
You’re from Galicia. Do you find this food just like back home?
I find it totally different. I’m used to my grandmother’s cooking.
Do other Spaniards share their opinions?
Sometimes you get, “You should get a different ham and cheese because it doesn’t taste like it does in Spain.” We’re not in Spain.
What’s the secret to a good sangria?
We just use fruit, ice, sugar, seltzer water, a little rum or brandy, and the cheapest wine you can get. With all that stuff in it, why would you use an expensive wine?
You work the floor as well as the bar. Which do you prefer?
You need a lot more patience [at the bar]. People come in and they tell you their whole life and you have to stay there and listen. That’s where your tip comes from.
You can smell the garlic almost before you walk into El Faro. Ever get sick of it?
We throw garlic on everything. I’m surprised there’s no garlic in the sangria. People are like, “It smells good.” It smells good because you don’t spend eight hours a day here!
How do you make sure you don’t reek of it when you leave work to hang out with friends?
I wrap my clothes. I’ve gotten comments a couple of times.
Your corner, Greenwich and Horatio, gets a lot of traffic from transvestite streetwalkers. Do they ever spill into the restaurant?
There used to be many more of them. Two of them came in here once asking to use the restroom, but that’s about it.
How bad does the wait get?
The worst time to come is Fridays and Saturdays, 7:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. It’ll be at least 45 minutes to an hour; bigger parties maybe a bit more. We try to take reservations up until about 8 p.m., but after that you just come in. Otherwise people get upset about the fact that they have a reservation and their table isn’t ready. —Daniel Maurer