GARDINER — As patrons packed Alex Parker’s Steakhouse for its opening night on Thursday, other downtown business owners speculated that the new addition will make Gardiner a destination for people looking for a bite to eat.

“It was busy all day and all night,” owner Peter Powers said the day after the opening. “Today for lunch was extremely busy. Even with the weather, I think tonight’s going to be busy too.”

City officials and other business owners hope the steakhouse’s opening and other upcoming changes to the dining mix downtown will keep pushing the city’s downtown revitalization efforts forward.

Besides the steakhouse that opened last week, a couple from Boothbay Harbor plan to open a wine bar in May; and a cafe probably will begin serving dinner by early summer.

Powers and his partner, Harold Royals, originally had planned to open Alex Parker’s Steakhouse by the start of this year, but the renovation process proved to be more lengthy and challenging than expected.

Besides gutting most of the space and lowering the downstairs floor, they renovated the walkway between the back parking lot and the restaurant’s entrance on Water Street.

It occupies the old location of the Mad Dog Pub, which closed last year.

A $40,000 loan from the city’s revolving loan fund went to renovating the walkway, which the city’s director of economic and community development, Nate Rudy, called “a game-changing investment.”

“This is exactly the kind of business that we want to attract to the downtown of Gardiner, because it makes great use of our building space,” Rudy said.

Royals said they spent about $100,000 of their own money for renovation and start-up costs.

They plan to serve lunch and dinner seven days a week and brunch on Sundays.

Lisa Liberatore, the owner of Lisa’s Legit Burritos, across the street from the steakhouse, is expecting more exposure as a result of the new restaurant.

“I think it’s going to be awesome for the downtown. … They’re going to look around and say, ‘Oh, there’s a burrito place,'” Liberatore said.

She said she thinks the addition of the steakhouse and the wine bar will give Gardiner enough places to make it a destination for people eating out, comparable to Hallowell.

“You don’t know where you’re going to go,” Liberatore said, “but you’re going to come to Gardiner.”

Rudy has the same hope for the city.

“I think we have a cluster of restaurants that have formed downtown that will strengthen each other,” Rudy said. “Someone can comfortably come to Gardiner knowing that if there’s not a table there ready for their first hankering of what they want to eat, they can walk down the street to find another great place.”

Robert Lash, who owns Water Street Cafe with his wife, Amy Rees, said he also senses that the opening of the steakhouse and wine bar will give the downtown the critical mass of evening options needed to attract more people.

Lash and Rees opened the downtown spot a year-and-a-half ago after A1 to Go Community Market & Cafe closed, and they’ve been transforming it into more of a cafe than a market.

In January, they renovated the interior to add more seating, and Walter Loeman, formerly of Walter’s restaurant in Portland and several other eateries, joined the team full time as chef.

“To have him here, in central Maine, we feel pretty fortunate,” Lash said.

Lash said they plan to begin serving dinner at the cafe by early summer. They now serve breakfast, lunch and coffee drinks. They also sell bottles of wine and have small selection of craft beer.

The owner of Monkitree, a store with a mix of jewelry, home goods and other products from local artisans, is considering keeping her store open an hour later in anticipation of the dinner crowd from the steakhouse next door.

“I think we’ll see a very busy dinner time,” Clare Marron said.

The new restaurant also has made Marron more conscious of her storefront’s appearance. She said she’s having the front of her store repainted, as workers scraped paint off around the outside windows last week.

“It’s a direct response of having a bright, shiny door next door,” Marron said. “We decided to spruce things up a bit, so we look as good as our neighbors.”

Paul Koenig — 621-5663
[email protected]

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