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FINDING SHOOTERS IS A TASK; ENJOYING IT SHOULD BE EASIER PICTURESQUE WATERFRONT CAFE OPENS TONIGHT WITH A SPLASH

THE NEWEST addition to Buffalo's shoreline -- Shooters, which bills itself as "Waterfront Cafe U.S.A." -- opens at 8 tonight with a burst of fireworks appropriate to the launch of a major civic appurtenance. Even with skyrockets as a guide, however, the big question is how to get there.

Forget such designators as Seaway Piers Marina, its nautical address, or 325 Fuhrmann Blvd., which is of help only to the postman. By land or by sea, the key is to look for the Skyway.

Sailors will find Shooters near the south end of the Skyway. Landlubbers, on the other hand, have two approaches.

Those driving south from downtown Buffalo should take the first exit they see after they get off the Skyway. Those heading north toward downtown should turn just before the Skyway begins.

In either case, the signs to follow are the ones that say "Coast Guard." There's a Coast Guard base not far from Shooters.

Arriving by car, you'll find the waterfront cafe at the end of what will seem like a vast parking lot, but not to worry. Motor on up to the loop at the front door, trade the keys for a claim check and let the valet parking staff take care of the rest. As for do-it-yourselfers, just look for an empty spot.

Similarly, boaters pulling up to 340-foot floating dock will find valet docking. Trained attendants will direct sailors to open berths and secure them.

No matter how you get there, be assured that no attire is too casual for Shooters. The gentlemen who founded the original restaurant in the chain in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in 1982, did it because they couldn't find any other respectable waterside oasis that would accept them as they were in their shipboard clothes.

Done up in "Miami Vice" pink and turquoise (actually, says Jan Idelman, the chain's publicity director, a reflection of the colors at Pilot Field), the sheer sumptuousness of the place may inspire more dress-up than the other Shooters. According to Clay Thompson, vice president of operations for the chain, this is the glitziest of them all.

Shooters, however, feels quite different from the city's other dockside restaurant, Crawdaddy's at Erie Basin Marina. Where Crawdaddy's is cloistered and labyrinthine, Shooters is big and wide-open.

Inside and out, Shooters is oriented entirely toward the lake. A greenhouse of glass gives everyone in the tiered main dining room and bar on the first floor a watery panorama unequaled in Western New York.

Look north and there's downtown Buffalo rising above the ruins of its grain elevators. Look west and see the broad expanse of Lake Erie, with the Canadian shore across the water paralleled by harbor breakwalls. Look south to find the hills of the South Towns, the hulking remnants of the old Bethlehem Steel plant and the largest stretch of undeveloped shoreline in the Northeast.

The vistas are even wider outside on the patio. The best views of all, though, are upstairs in the second-floor bar, banquet room and terrace, an area reserved primarily for private luncheons and parties except on Friday afternoons, when it's thrown open for happy hour.

From now until Labor Day, most people going to Shooters will wind up on the patio, which seems twice as large as the indoor part of the restaurant and which has its own free-standing bar. At 3 p.m. on Saturdays, weather permitting, the patio will be the site of Shooters' most notable promotion -- "hot bod" bikini contests, which carry $1,000 in prizes.

Along with dozens of umbrella-shaded tables and four tropical palm trees, the patio area includes a sandy beach and a pool. The beach is a sunning beach rather than a bathing beach, being situated behind a rocky breakwater that rises 20 feet above the harbor. And the pool, three to four feet deep, is for wading, cooling off and perhaps volleyball, but not swimming.

A promenade running the length of the dock is considered a public access area, open to all who want to drop by just to gaze at several hundred thousand dollars worth of sailing vessels. Those aboard the boats can disembark for food and refreshments or get restaurant service on board, though state law forbids bringing on any alcoholic beverages except for beer.

Taking care of all these details will be a staff of more than 300, chosen, Ms. Idelman says, for experience, energy and enthusiasm. Dressed to complement the colors of the place, all have undergone more than a week of training, testing and drills under the guidance of staffers from other Shooters restaurants in Florida and Ohio.

"We call our staff a team," Ms. Idelman explains. "When something needs to be done, everybody pitches in and gets it done. The only place you can compare it to is Disney World."

Connotations of the restaurant's name (Shooters being, alternately, high-rolling big spenders or mini-cocktails concocted by mixing liquors, liqueurs, juices, creams and sodas in a cocktail shaker) might suggest it's dominated by its bar business. Ms. Idelman says sales figures indicate just the opposite. Food accounts for 60 percent of revenues.

Shooters offers a menu that's best described as late 20th century American eclectic. There's a little bit of everything -- more than 100 familiar items, none more expensive than $14.95 and most in the $5 to $10 range. There's pasta; there's Mexican; there's seafood and steaks; there's Sunday brunch.

Most popular items at other Shooters are the $8.95 teriyaki chicken and the potato skins, which go for $5.95 loaded and $2.95 plain. The entry least likely to be encountered at other Buffalo restaurants is a Florida specialty -- conch fritters at $3.95.

As for drinks, Shooters may double the per-capita consumption of rum in Western New York. The list of specialty cocktails is deep with frozen daiquiris and other tropical potions. Prices are reasonable for a fancy place -- or fancy compared to most Buffalo bars.

Frozen and tropical drinks run $3.60 and $3.80. Beers go $1.80 for drafts, $2 for bottled domestics and $2.80 for bottled imports. Shooters -- eight are listed on the place mat, among them the Kamikaze and the Alabama Slammer -- vary from $2.80 to $3.40.

Finally, just because you found the place and spent a couple of pleasant hours there, don't expect to know your way back by land. The exit road is one-way south. Those heading home in that direction can simply take the first entrance ramp onto Route 5.

Going north, however, means finding a U-turn. Look for the first Coast Guard sign, turn left there, then follow the highway back toward Shooters until you see the on-ramp at the base of the Skyway. The rest should be easy.

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