The legendary habitués of the Hotel Chelsea spent plenty of time getting up to no good in their bedrooms, but when it was time for dinner you could find them reviving themselves with paella and lobster downstairs at El Quijote.
The kitschy Spanish restaurant, inspired by Miguel de Cervantes's Don Quixote, opened its doors in 1930 and became one of the longest-standing eateries in the city. Throughout the decades, it established its reputation as a favorite among the counter-culture cool kids alongside the iconic hotel where it was housed.
From the 1960s onward, you could find Andy Warhol holding court in the back room with writer William S. Burroughs, as well as the likes of Jimi Hendrix and the members of Jefferson Airplane. Janis Joplin, it was said, was known to cause a few scenes in the dining room. Patti Smith, who used to swipe leftover lobster shells for Robert Mapplethorpe’s art projects, wrote of the place, "The Chelsea was my home and the El Quijote my bar."
After collecting a slew of eccentric regulars (and plenty of weird and wonderful stories), the staple shuttered in 2018. But now, coinciding with the impending reopening of the revitalized Hotel Chelsea, El Quijote has returned.
Sure it has new owners (Sunday Hospitality and partner Charles Seich), but the iconic red neon sign remains, as do its signature painted walls - if only they could talk - and Don Quixote mural.
As for the menu? Culinary director and partner Jaime Young and chef de cuisine Byron Hogan will be staying true to El Quijote's roots with classic Spanish fare from Catalunya, Basque Country, and Valencia. And yes, there's plenty of paella.
Despite its somewhat more sophisticated updates, it's safe to say the spirit of the original El Quijote lives on - though we wouldn't suggest pulling a Joplin there these days.
[Photos courtesy El Quijote, @hispanicnyc]