The ownership group behind Urbano 116 did not want to design another Mexican restaurant with a played-out “Day of the Dead” theme. Instead of being surrounded by dancing skeletons, customers at Old Town Alexandria’s new Oaxacan hotspot will sit among a backdrop dedicated to Mexico’s theatrical professional wrestling pastime, lucha libre.
“We wanted to come up with a way to make it cool and not cheesy. It can look overdone if you don’t do it right,” says Chad Sparrow, co-founder of Common Plate Hospitality.
Sparrow’s growing Alexandria restaurant group is also behind Mason Social, Augie’s Mussel House, and Catch on the Ave. Its latest project, scheduled to open for lunch and dinner on Monday, January 21, went the extra mile to honor Mexico’s colorful competitors across a space that seats 160 people.
Sparrow brought home 15 shiny masks from Mexico that now fill up glass cases in the restaurant at 116 King Street. A huge mural of lucha libre pioneer Mil Máscaras, the “Man of 1,000 Masks,” is splashed across a brick wall, watching over taco eaters below.
Urbano 116’s overall look is inspired by modern-day Mexico City’s vibrant dining scene. Neon green “Urbano” lettering stands apart from polished concrete flooring. Laser-cut cement blocks shipped from Mexico function as partitions between the 45-seat bar and main dining room.
Original exposed brick walls pay homage to Old Town’s historic nature. The 1920s-era building was constructed around the same time that lucha libre became popular. It formerly housed a blacksmith’s shop, and more recently, a retail store.
A to-go window will sell tacos to passers-by during the day and specialize in churros at night. Hydraulic garage-style windows, similar to the setup at Pearl Dive Oyster Palace on 14th Street NW, will open to the street once temperatures rise.
Like its decor, Common Plate also imported a big-name chef from Mexico City to lead the kitchen. Alam Méndez Florián has time-intensive moles, tacos, and ceviches planned for his first stateside gig. The alum of Noma Mexico in Tulum will use corn from Oaxaca to recreate the same flawless tortillas that blew Common Plate’s socks off during a meal at his critically acclaimed Pasillo de Humo. Brunch is expected to join the rotation in the coming weeks.
Scroll on for a look inside the electrifying addition to Old Town: