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Dinner with a heaping side of music

Locally owned restaurants keep customers coming back by offering live entertainment during dinner.

By JOY DAVIS-PLATT, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 31, 2002

Bentley's Restaurant has served food in Spring Hill for three years. But with the influx of chain restaurants, manager Debbie Lund says good food is not always enough to compete.

Like several small restaurants in the area, Bentley's offers live music as a little something extra to get customers through the doors.

With area favorite Stan Prinston singing Wednesday and Thursday nights and a band playing on Fridays and Saturdays, Lund said customers who appreciate the treat of live music have a home at Bentley's.

"One of the things that is nice is that there is a nice crowd," she said. "It's not your typical rowdy bar crowd."

Drawing patrons in the 30 to 60 age group, Lund said Prinston's renditions of standards by artists such as Neil Diamond and Frank Sinatra not only fill the dining room, but the dance floor as well.

Prinston, who has performed for both restaurant and concert audiences, said there is a certain intimacy that comes from a dinner crowd.

"What I like about it is the people," said Prinston. "They actually come in to listen to music and have a nice dinner, and it doesn't have to be like in a concert atmosphere. It is a little more subdued and relaxed -- a little more sophisticated, I think."

Because people tend to come back if they like a performer, Prinston said he sees many of the same faces in the crowd each week.

"Stan has a pretty good following of his own," said Lund. "And I think this atmosphere just complements his show."

On the other side of the county, since Vicki Gibson expanded the lounge at Victoria's Steak House in Brooksville last year, the music has become an integral part of the restaurant's mix, Gibson said.

Now, the steakhouse has a weekend house band, Southern Star, and a singer, Marla, who performs during the week.

"We just wanted to add something different," Gibson said. "We wanted something that would complement what we already have."

With a mix of country and country rock, Southern Star and lead singer Jack Cox have a loyal following.

"There are people who come to hear the band," Gibson said. "But once they've eaten here, they usually come back."

At Ray's Elbow Room in Spring Hill, owner Lucille Chrisafulle says the perfect seasoning for continental cuisine is piano music.

"We did this from the very beginning," said Chrisafulle. "We thought it was a nice way to make it cozier and more pleasant."

Unlike in bars, Chrisafulle said the piano music is a complement to the dinner, rather than the main course.

"This music is something you can have a conversation over," she said. "It's something chains can never offer. We offer diversity."

Besides piano music by Sal Lolimine on Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sundays, Elbow Room features singer Emile on Wednesday nights.

For something more exotic, the Brooksville location of El Ranchito Mexican Restaurant features the five-piece mariachi band Mariachi Fiesta en Jalisco on Thursday evenings.

"The group comes and sings at the tables," said manager Jose Guitierrez. "It goes with the food."

Dinnertime music

Like a little music with your meal? There are several restaurants in Hernando County that offer various types of live entertainment.

BENTLEY'S, 5526 Commercial Way, Spring Hill -- Live band, 9 p.m.-1 a.m. Friday and Saturday. Karaoke, 7-11 p.m. Monday. Ladies Night with DJ, 7-11 p.m. Tuesday. Stan Prinston, 7-11 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday. 597-0707.

EL RANCHITO MEXICAN RESTAURANT, 19542 Cortez Blvd., Brooksville -- Mariachi Fiesta en Jalisco, 6-9 p.m. Thursday. 796-7004.

RAY'S ELBOW ROOM, 1365 Kass Circle, Spring Hill -- Piano, 5-9 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. Emile, 5-9 p.m. Wednesday. 688-6589.

VICTORIA'S STEAK HOUSE & LOUNGE, 11738 Broad St., Brooksville -- Southern Star, 8 p.m.-midnight Friday and Saturday. Marla, 6 to 10 p.m. Sunday and 6 to 9 p.m. Thursday. 799-8985.

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