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SUNDAY, MAY 6, 2007
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Manuel Martinez serves lunch to customers on Maria Bonita’s patio.
Daily photo by Jonathan Palmer
Manuel Martinez serves lunch to customers on Maria Bonita’s patio.

outdoor paradise
Diners eat up the patios at local restaurants, and they — and business owners — want even more

By Danielle Komis
dkomis@decaturdaily.com · 340-2447

Chips and salsa are good.

A cold margarita is even better.

But eating and drinking under the warm sun or under the cool night sky?

It’s the best.

At this time of year, local restaurants with patios meet the desires for a quick lunch away from the gray office or a festive night out with friends. Diners and restaurant owners say they’d like to see more of them in town as a way to liven up the local scene.

“I wish there was more of it because the atmosphere of people on the street and eating is really nice,” said Bank Street Deli owner Jim Ridgeway. “This place would be just popping to all hours of night.”

Historical areas in cities such as Jacksonville, Fla., Phoenix and San Antonio all have revitalized their cities by creating outdoor cafes that are great gathering places, he said.

At recently opened Maria Bonita Grill and Cantina in Decatur, diners often wait for patio seating even when seats are available inside. Day or night, the patio tends to be a popular spot, owners said.

The Mexican restaurant’s patio is partially enclosed with brick walls and features umbrellas, metal sculptures, plants, a fountain and a bar. On the weekends, local bands play on the patio while people mill around or sit at tables.

Juan Penuelas of Decatur, who said he loves the atmosphere of Maria Bonita’s patio, recently saw local band Bishop Black play there.

“It’s the only place I know of that does that,” he said of the outdoor concert. “There was quite a bit of people here.”

Not far from Maria Bonita, people also flock to Hard Dock Café for its popular patio. Bands typically play inside and leave room for revelers to enjoy the large patio on the Tennessee River that attracts people from up and down the waterway.

“It seems like it’s just everybody who likes the patio,” said owner Steve Connor. “There’s pretty much nothing else like this on the river.”

John Nance of Hillsboro, who said he stops in at Hard Dock whenever he’s in town, said he loves the outdoor atmosphere there. Recently, the patio was packed when he stopped in.

“Everyone was sitting outside and watching the sunset and the railroad bridge go up,” he said. “It’s great if you sit outside, and it’s more romantic.”

Sidewalk seating

Outdoor seating also is popular even when it’s limited to small areas. Shelly Ross, owner of Lagniappe’s Coffee Café, said the few tables on the sidewalk in front of Lagniappe’s on East Moulton Street are always a popular place for lunch.

“It really surprises me sometimes because we’re on a pretty busy street and it can be pretty noisy out there,” she said.

Bank Street Deli’s small sidewalk seating also is in demand, Ridgeway said.

“It’s very popular when the weather’s nice,” he said. “That’s usually the first place they go. The early comers get the outside places and the latecomers are relegated to the inside.”

Patios not for everyone

Waitress Katherine Rogers takes an order from Paul Fredett and his wife, Linda Walden, as they enjoy the patio at Market Street Cafe & Deli on Tuesday.
Daily photo by Gary Cosby Jr.
Waitress Katherine Rogers takes an order from Paul Fredett and his wife, Linda Walden, as they enjoy the patio at Market Street Cafe & Deli on Tuesday.
Owners of other popular eating establishments say they’d like to be able to offer outdoor seating on their sidewalks, but can’t because of city laws.

“I’ve always wanted to (have one) and would love to, but it’s city property all outside of my building,” said Café 113 owner Victor Melonas. “Unfortunately I can’t do anything like that.”

By law, Melonas is not allowed to provide seating where alcohol would be served on the sidewalk because of the city’s open container laws, according to city attorney Herman Marks. However, he could lawfully build an enclosed patio on his property where food and drink could be served, according to Capt. John Richardson of the Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board in Montgomery.

Lagniappe’s and Bank Street Deli don’t serve alcohol, so they don’t go up against the same restrictions.

Christy Wiley, owner of Simp McGhee’s on Bank Street in Decatur, also has the same barriers as Café 113 for sidewalk seating.

“We have questioned if we could put tables out front but we can’t because of the alcohol,” she said. “It’d be rare for someone to sit out there and want to have an entrée and not have a glass of wine or something.”

However, more restaurant patios would be a great addition to the city, she said.

It’d be wonderful if we could all have patios,” she said. “People like that. Huntsville has it, Birmingham has it ... If we could find a way for the city to allow it, it’d be excellent.”

‘A popular thing’

There will probably continue to be a demand for more patios in the area, said Jim Page, vice president of governmental affairs at the Decatur-Morgan County Chamber of Commerce.

“I think it’s a very popular thing for restaurants to do,” he said. “The ones that have them are usually pretty successful. We’ve passed that on to developers and restaurant owners looking to locate here.”

Panera Bread, which will soon be built at The Crossings of Decatur shopping development at Alabama 67 and U.S. 31, also will offer outside seating, he said.

Locals like John Nance say the future for outdoor seating places looks good.

“If they’ve got a patio and it’s nice outside, I’ll be out there,” he said. “I always like the outside seating.”

Other local outdoor patios

  • Casa Blanca, U.S. 72, Athens

  • Guadalajara Grill, Colonial Mall, Decatur

  • Backe Door Gourmet, Grant Street Southeast, Decatur

  • Market Street Café and Deli, Market Street Northeast, Decatur

  • Sports Zone, U.S. 31 South, Decatur

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