Ah, the irony. Yesterday your Grub Street editor returned from a trip to Barcelona (where you can still smoke in restaurants) to discover that the indefatigable Health Department had shuttered La Nacional, the most authentic Spanish joint in town if you go by the number of old men at the bar claiming to be retired matadors. Pero dónde demonios are we going to score our post-vacay comedown tortillas? Owner Lolo Manso assures us he’ll be up and running again as soon as tomorrow, and the cafeteria portion of the restaurant will have a fresh paint job, a new floor, new walls behind the open kitchen, and a new TV for those telenovelas. “Imagine an old guy with the same character,” he tells us, “but they cut the hair to give him a little more appeal.” We’re a little nervous about the place losing some of its charm, but here’s some undeniably good news.
Manso says that rumors of a new Socarrat Paella Bar are indeed true, though it won’t be on Broome Street — he reveals that by the end of July, he’ll open a sister bar (same menu, same design) in the former Ghenet space in Nolita. But before he does that, he’ll have to get La Nacional back open. He’s visiting the Health Department today to schedule a reinspection, and he thinks he’ll pass, since he has now patched up walls in the basement where cooks do much of their prep work. Once the establishment reopens, its future will look brighter than it did a little over a year ago when squabbles over the lease threatened to sink it. Manso says he’s operating under a more favorable board of directors, and he’s hoping to sign a lease with the Spanish Benevolent Society (which has operated the building since 1868) that’s more favorable than the two-year agreements he’s been working under since he took over the restaurant eight years ago. Now if they’d just let you light up those smuggled Ducados