El Quijote in the Hotel Chelsea.
"There used to be dozens of Spanish restaurants around Chelsea and the Village, and while it was possible to argue over which had the best paella there was no serious debate about which was the grandest. It was El Quijote, in the Hotel Chelsea.
When El Quijote opened in 1930, the Depression had begun but the nightclub era was still rolling along. An awning, stretching from the curb on West 23rd Street to the red neon sign above the door, protected felt hats and fur coats from the elements. Inside, captains dressed in scarlet blazers and runners wore black vests over white shirts. Murals and framed paintings inspired by Don Quixote, bullfights or some other idea of old Spain looked down on everyone.
Patti Smith, who lived upstairs, wrote in her memoir “Just Kids” that she walked into El Quijote’s bar one afternoon in 1969 to find “musicians everywhere, sitting before tables laid with mounds of shrimp with green sauce, paella, pitchers of sangria and bottles of tequila.” Jefferson Airplane was there. So was Janis Joplin and her band. Jimi Hendrix sat by the door.
That particular tableau, occasioned by Woodstock, was never repeated. El Quijote continued, though, to draw musicians, artists, writers and others who appreciated its combination of surrealism, tradition and prices that barely changed from one decade to the next. El Quijote could almost always turn an evening into an event, a rare quality in a restaurant whose playlist consisted of elevator-music arrangements of songs by the Beatles and Led Zeppelin. It was a dreamy ghost ship becalmed in Manhattan’s swirling currents.
The space that remains, though, has been handled with all the sensitivity any urban nostalgist could ask for. The room-length windmill mural, painted in calligraphic white strokes on a dark caramel-colored background, looks like a museum piece after its cleaning. The linoleum was lifted to reveal tiny ceramic floor tiles that are probably original. The white tablecloths are gone, and servers now wear soft cotton jackets instead of blazers, but the color is still as red as a bullfighter’s cape."
- Pete Wells, The New York Times