A decade-long effort to remodel and reopen the Patio Cafe took one step closer to fruition tonight (Thursday, August 1) when the Planning Commission voted to grant the Castro eatery the necessary permits it needs to welcome back diners.
It could open its doors as early as mid-September.
The commissioners on a 6-1 vote approved a conditional use permit so that the Patio, located at 531 Castro Street, could increase its seating due to taking over several small retail spaces to use for a bar and lounge area.
“It is nicely renovated, which we should be encouraging people to do when they take properties and upgrade them,” said commissioner Michael Antonini.
Commissioner Gwyneth Borden voted against the item. She did not state a specific reason other than to say, “I cannot support this applicant.”
Several anonymous letters, which are believed to have come from residents on Hartford Street which runs behind the Patio, were sent in to the commission raising concerns about the hours and noise emanating from the outdoor eating area.
The restaurant’s retractable roof over the eating area will be closed nightly at 9 p.m.
A handful of speakers turned out to support the Patio’s permit; no one spoke in opposition during the roughly 30 minute hearing.
“I am in favor of this project. It will contribute to the economic vitality of the neighborhood,” said Crispin Hollings, who lives a block away.
Owner Les Natali attended the hearing but did not speak.
His land use attorney, John Kevlin, with the law firm Reuben, Junius and Rose LLP, said, “Les is obviously anxious to open. It could be as soon as 30 days after this hearing.”
As the Bay Area Reporter noted in a story earlier this year, in May 2012 Natali had planned to reopen the Patio, which closed in 2002. But a routine health department inquiry related to his request for an occupancy permit led to a determination that his planning permits were not in order.
At the crux of the snafu was a zoning prohibition placed on the eatery in 1992 that stipulated a seating capacity of 160 people. Any expansion required Natali to seek a new permit.
However, when he sought city approval in 2005 to expand the restaurant into several retail spaces fronting Castro Street, city planners at the time neglected to have Natali apply for the necessary permits in order to exceed the capacity cap. The Patio Cafe’s occupancy will go from 160 people to 171.
The mistake was not caught until last spring. After first trying to fight the planning department’s determination he needed to apply for a conditional use permit, Natali relented and did so this year.
In June Natali told the B.A.R. that he was in talks with two interested parties to run the Patio Cafe – they would be required to keep the name – but did not disclose their identities. He is expected to soon announce who the operator will be now that his permit has been approved.
The Patio’s bar and seating area fronting Castro Street will be open from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. seven days a week. There will also be a take-out service.
The back bar and outdoor seating area will be open from 11 a.m. to midnight seven days a week.