More than a decade ago, on the corner of 106th Street and Third Avenue in the heart of East Harlem (known to us locals as ‘El Barrio’), a small unassuming luncheonette called ‘George & Ginas' was to make history. Virgenes Diaz, or ‘Gina’ as she was affectionately known, had owned several successful eateries in the neighborhood. But it was this one – her last one – which would become the East Harlem icon that today is known as La Fonda Boricua.
George and Gina’s became La Fonda Boricua in 1996 when Jorge Ayala purchased the quiet lunch spot and turned it into a vibrant local favorite. Working closely with his kitchen crew, Jorge preserved many of the restaurant’s traditional dishes and added a few of his own. Then half its current size, La Fonda Boricua would become a favorite among local residents and citywide Latinos who yearned for a place where their food and culture could proudly take center stage.
In 2000, the stage widened, when Jorge’s brother Roberto arrived from Puerto Rico to help him expand the business. The two brothers would prove an excellent team, doubling the size of La Fonda in a year, and adding a robust catering service component to their young business.
This is the Fonda Boricua that most people know about today. From 2007 to 2008, it was also the home of some of the greatest live, improvisational latin music being performed in New York City. But soon, it became apparent that the Fonda Boricua's humble facilities were just not enough to contain the kind of musical expression that kept coming its way.
From 2008 to 2011, the Ayalas owned and operated a second bar and restaurant right across the street from the Fonda Boricua called the FB Lounge. Offering an exciting menu of both the new and the traditional, the Lounge continued in the Fonda tradition of combining great food, music and art in El Barrio. It had become home to some of the most authentic live improvisational afro-caribbean and Latin music being played in New York City. This was where New York City's best came to jam, and on any given night, you never knew who was going drop by to sit in. The Lounge was further bolstered by the contributions of music producer, sound engineer, and veteran of the world of Latin Music, David Feliciano, who was central to making all of the FB Lounge's perfomance magic happen.
Regrettably, despite three years of phenomenal music and wide support and praise from patrons and press alike, the FB Lounge was forced to close its doors for the last time on May 29, 2011, amidst personal hardships, which were only further magnified by the difficult economic environment at the time.
Despite this unfortunate setback, the Fonda Boricua is working hard to rebuild and restructure in order to continue to bring to El Barrio, New York City, and the world beyond, the very best it has to offer.