La Calaca Feliz Takes Over Illuminaire Space in Fairmount

Fairmount has been waiting for its south-of-the-border dining draw for a long time now, but it appears that the wait is almost over. By January, La Calaca Feliz, or “the happy skeleton” will be offering interpretations of contemporary modern Mexican cuisine, a variety of tequilas and margaritas at 2321 Fairmount Avenue, in the old Illuminare location.

A project from owner Brian Sirhal, and partner and executive chef Tim Spinner–both of whom learned the trade from Jose Garces–the just-shy-of-100-seat, full-bar operation will feature a Dia de los Muertos-inspired decorative motif and murals by Alison Dilworth. Dilworth also painted murals at Cantina Feliz in Forth Washington, the duo’s first location, as well as Sassafras in Old City.

“When we searched for a location for the first restaurant about a year-and-a-half-ago,” Sirhal said, “Fairmount was an area we really liked. We really love the neighborhood. We’re looking forward to developing a relationship with the neighborhood people. It’s a great mix of young and old… We have a lot of friends who live there now.”

As for the food? “Tim leaned from Garces how to find and use the best products around,” Sirhal said, which ought to bode well for their new neighbors.

This marks the second recent example of Mexican cuisine coming to the area. The announcement of Isabel opening at 2601 Pennsylvania Avenue was the first.

Sirhal, who got his start in Manhattan’s Rosa Mexicano, said there will be minor interior renovations. Those includes plans to cut-off some of the current outdoor Illuminare eating garden and enclose it in something like a greenhouse to make for outdoor seating in indoor weather.

“I’ll think they’ll do well having a differ variety of cuisine in Fairmount,” said Ryan Pollock, who owns RyBread, a bagel/sandwich/coffee shop next door to the forthcoming La Calaca Feliz. Pollock said he saw owners hang up the application for transfer of license this morning. “It’s another reason to keep people in the neighborhood.”