By Ken Williams | Editor
What’s replacing Claire de Lune
The sudden shuttering of the Claire de Lune Coffee Lounge and cultural space on Feb. 16, 2016 left a big void at the corner of University Avenue and Kansas Street in North Park, but a new tenant promises to breathe new life into the historical building.
Steve Blasingame, a principal with the Moose Restaurant Group, tells San Diego Uptown News that he loves the building’s architecture and its prime location in the heart of North Park’s burgeoning dining and craft beer scenes.
Moose Restaurant Group — known for its chain of Fred’s Mexican Café and Moose’s Pub & Café restaurants — will be opening in North Park a new concept called Tamarindo, he said. The target date to open is by the end of November or early December.
“We’re going to be a Mexican grill,” Blasingame said. “Think fresh fish, fresh organic margaritas, fast casual.
“We will have more of a real chef” than an order cook, he added. “By fast casual, I mean you will order at the bar and we’ll bring the food to you.”
Blasingame said Moose Restaurant Group is pioneering the new brand as it moves away from the nightclub concept. There are Moose’s Pub & Café restaurants in California and Hawaii, but he said the company recently sold the one in Pacific Beach. The group owns the Fred’s Mexican Café in Old Town San Diego and Huntington Beach.
“We are rebuilding the company,” he said, noting that they currently own five restaurants.
The menu at Tamarindo — which shares the name of a popular tourist town along the Pacific Ocean in Costa Rica — will feature the fresh catch of the day, seafood, ceviche, tacos, burritos, salads and free range chicken.
Blasingame said the cuisine would be modeled after what is found in the Guadalupe Valley region of Baja California, which has become a haven for food and wine aficionados. He described Tamarindo’s cuisine as striving for a “little bit healthier lifestyle with the use of raw ingredients, chiles and Latin spices.”
The price range for main dishes, he said, will be $8 to $12. Breakfast and brunch will be offered on Saturdays and Sundays.
A slice of history
Tamarindo will occupy the historical Newman/I.O.O.F. Building, located at 2906 University Ave. Edward W. Newman and William E. Gibb obtained a permit in July 1929 to build a steel and concrete structure that would house a department store, according to Donald Covington’s book, “North Park: A San Diego Urban Village, 1896-1946,” published by the North Park Historical Society.
Newman was a pioneer builder in North Park, University Heights, Normal Heights and Kensington, and Gibb was an early house designer/builder in the community and built a number of commercial buildings in “downtown” North Park.
“The exterior of the building, a modified Mission Revival style, featured a prominent series of round arched windows mimicking a glazed Roman arcade with towers and red tile roof. Modernization in the 1950s covered over transom windows in the arches, and other original features were also lost. However, the full arches and decorative features re-appeared in the restoration design of Richard Bundy and David Thompson, a Main Street sponsored project of the 1990s,” according to the book.
“The interior of the original building was divided into two large retail spaces. The corner space featured a mezzanine overlooking the atrium of the ground floor.”
The book describes the first occupants.
“In 1930, North Park’s first department store occupied this space. The E. N. Mudd Department Store shared the building with the Norman F. Maw Music Company …”
But as the Great Depression lingered, the two businesses suffered.
“… In September 1932, Edward Newman sold the building to the Independent Order of Odd Fellows (I.O.O.F.). A remodeling project began immediately under the direction of Lee Brendt, a Marine officer and member of the I.O.O.F. fraternity. The project resulted in lodge facilities facing Kansas Street and four business spaces on University. In 1933, these four spaces were leased to new tenants,” the book states.
Almost 20 years ago, Claire Magner became the property’s owner and Claire de Lune became a popular hangout space open for coffee, dessert, and a light breakfast or lunch. The Showtime series “Polyamory: Married & Dating” even filmed part of an episode there, giving the space new notoriety.
Although she closed Claire de Lune, Magner continues to operate the Sunset Temple, located on the Kansas Street side of the property.
Plans for Tamarindo
Blasingame has his work cut out for him to transform the space into a restaurant, but he vows to embrace the architectural style.
“This is a beautiful building,” he said, adding that the architecture reminds him, somewhat, of Miami Beach and the Art Deco era.
“We hope to enhance some of the Art Deco-style attributes,” he said.
He wants the bank of windows along University Avenue to open up, but not with the roll-up “garage doors” that are popular throughout San Diego.
“I want them to tilt and go up,” he said. “I won’t touch those beautiful arches! We want to feel the outdoors inside.”
The outdoor patio area will largely remain the same. “There’s not a lot we can do there,” he said.
The mezzanine, which overlooks the main space, will be used for offices and storage.
The biggest challenge will be creating a kitchen: “We’ll be building the whole thing from scratch.”
Tamarindo will feature a large island bar located in the center of the 2,500-square-foot room, he said. “We will showcase lots of local beers and we will be making our own syrups for our drinks.”
Blasingame stressed that Tamarindo will not be a bar, and the restaurant will likely close by midnight. “Not everybody drinks, so we will also have virgin drinks and sodas.”
The building is directly across the street from the historical Observatory North Park theater, and the city’s planned University Avenue Mobility Plan will bring an enhanced crosswalk across University at Kansas Street.
“We’re really excited about that,” Blasingame said.
Moose Restaurant Group looked all over San Diego County, including Downtown, Little Italy, Encinitas and North County, before deciding to launch their new concept restaurant in North Park.
“There is something different about North Park,” he said. “We knew Fred’s wouldn’t work here. North Park is just a great area. Everybody is out and about. There is a sense of pride and community. Good things are happening in North Park, and we wanted to be a part of it.”
—Ken Williams is editor of Uptown News and can be reached at email@example.com or at 619-961-1952. Follow him on Twitter at @KenSanDiego, Instagram at @KenSD or Facebook at KenWilliamsSanDiego.