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Pushing for a Patio

Richmonders love to dine outdoors, even when they're only looking at views of traffic or parking lots. Restaurants with decks and terraces tend to do brisk business, but owners who want to add outdoor dining have come to expect more than a few hurdles. They must meet parking, equipment and setback requirements; gain neighborhood support; and, ultimately, win approval from City Hall.

That's why flyers are circulating in the Museum District, rallying people to attend a City Planning Commission meeting May 15 and a City Council meeting May 22. At stake is a plan by ¬≠Calienté! to open a patio at 2922 Park Ave. in the area sometimes known as the Devil's Triangle.

So far, ¬≠Calienté! staffers have collected some 1,500 signatures on a petition of support. Owners Dave and Courtney Bender have been working for a year to add a 380-square-foot patio to the business, which would be the first for the district.

"We're not asking the city for a dime," Dave Bender says, "and we'd be putting more money in the city's tax coffers. We've been good neighbors. We've chased away the derelicts and installed floodlights, and we've spent a lot of time improving our property."

City leaders who returned from a recent fact-finding trip to Nashville noted that outdoor dining was a big draw there. The Benders hope council will back up that observation with an easier path for their plans.

Banditos and Star-lite Redesigned

Also in the Museum District, Banditos is getting a makeover. New paint, exterior details and a general freshening of the popular Mexican-and-margarita hangout are nearly complete, adding to the list of recently refurbished eateries in the city.

Chief among these is Star-lite Dining and Lounge at Robinson and West Main streets, which is attracting a surge in sales since its covered patio was completed last month, owners say. After their $160,000 investment in the patio redesign, Sean McClain says his partners hope to set a new standard for cafés in the Fan.

"Believe it or not, the more places that open, the happier we are," he says. "We're trying to create some synergy here. This is a fabulous neighborhood that deserves to be the Georgetown or Adams-Morgan of Richmond. We've been through two awnings, and we didn't want the plastic walls — too Nags Head beer bar — so now people can enjoy their dinner and beer in a little more upscale place."

Folding accordion-style windows at Star-lite are similar to pricey, taller ones at Can Can Brasserie that later had to be removed because of historic tax credit problems. The neighborhood and City Council approved the changes at Star-lite, though, and owners McClain, Rick Lyons and Alan Delforn celebrated the restaurant's fifth anniversary last week with a bash featuring hula girls.

Steak to Go

Morton's The Steakhouse is offering dinner for 10 in its Richmond's Greatest Dad contest. Entrants submit an essay or videotape explaining why their dad should win the title, based on his extraordinary accomplishments and relationship with his children.

Nominations run from May 24 through Father's Day. The winner gets a fully prepared and served dinner for 10 at home, including Porterhouse steaks, salads, grilled asparagus and broccoli, baked potatoes, cheesecake, key lime pie, and berries and cream. Morton's chef, service staff and maitre d' are part of the evening's prize package.

Send entries to AnnMarie Grohs, Morton's The Steakhouse, 111 Virginia St., Richmond, 23219.

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