A popular waiter at a Dupont Circle area restaurant was fatally shot early yesterday as he walked home from work, moments after telling his assailant, "I don't have any money," police and witnesses said.

Adrien D. Alstad, 55, who often broke into song as he worked at Annie's Paramount Steak House, was shot once in the chest about 2:20 a.m. in the 1800 block of R Street NW, two blocks from his apartment. He was pronounced dead an hour later at George Washington University Hospital.

The slaying took place in an area known more for its restaurants, shopping and night life than violent crime. Lt. David Jackson, of the police department's violent crimes unit, said detectives were investigating a string of street robberies in the neighborhood over the past few weeks, including two that took place in the hours before Alstad was attacked.

Police said they plan to step up patrols in the area and distribute leaflets in hopes of turning up leads on a suspect. No arrests were made.

It was not clear if any money was taken, but witnesses said they heard Alstad yelling, "I don't have any money," just before the sound of gunfire.

Boris Fain, 37, who lives on the block, called 911 after hearing shots and hearing Alstad, who was clutching his chest and shouting in pain.

"The man was doubled over right in front of the driveway," Fain said. "I was shaking."

At Annie's Paramount Steak House in the 1600 block of 17th Street NW, where Alstad had worked for about 12 years, his colleagues described him as a hardworking, caring and standout employee who charmed customers with his personality and singing.

Manager Leigh Hendricks said Alstad would sing songs such as "Dancing Queen" from the band Abba to his regular customers, who would applaud him.

"Everyone knew him," Hendricks said. "He would sit down at the tables and talk to people. He would run around here singing. Customers loved him."

Yesterday, as news of his death traveled through the neighborhood, flowers and balloons arrived at the restaurant in honor of him.

Hendricks fought tears as she recalled how she often warned Alstad about being careful while walking home from work. She said he brushed off her concerns by saying, "Oh, don't worry about me, babe. I'm going to walk right down the street, and if they want what little money I have, they can have it."

On the night he was killed, Alstad walked a female bartender to her car, she said. Hendricks said that the bartender offered him a ride but that Alstad declined.

Chad Tyler Green, 26, an actor who works at Annie's, said Alstad often covered his shifts so that he could attend auditions.

"It's really tough," Green said. "I'm just trying to keep occupied, but today's pretty slow, so it's hard."

Alstad, a native of Moorhead, Minn., studied English and history at Carleton College and received a master's degree from Northwestern University, friends and family members said.

He went on to work for the U.S. Information Service, which took him to places such as Zaire, they said. But Alstad soon tired of working in the government and instead decided to become a waiter so that he could travel more frequently, said his sister Lynnette M. Bock, 61, of Summerfield, Fla.

Alstad lived in Minneapolis, San Francisco and Australia, where he worked as a waiter, before moving to Washington in the early '90s. He often took vacations to places such as India and China.

"He always said happiness was a plane ticket in his pocket to somewhere," Bock said.

Frank Krise, 73, who has worked at Annie's for 41 years, said he often sat at outdoor cafes with Alstad and listened to fascinating stories about his travels. "He was one of the nicest, kindest guys you would ever meet," Krise said.

Carlton Lamb, the building manager in the 20th Street apartment where Alstad lived, said Alstad often fed neighborhood homeless people and allowed them into his apartment to shower. "He was just a perfect tenant, very nice," Lamb said.

The crime raised concerns at Annie's and other restaurants.

Brian D. Sparrow, 24, a bartender at a nearby restaurant, said two men tried to accost him about three weeks ago in the same block about 3 a.m. as he walked home from work. Sparrow said the men chased him, but he got away. He now carries pepper spray.

"I've got to work tonight, and I'll probably just end up leaving my money [at the restaurant] and picking it up tomorrow," Sparrow said.

In addition to his sister, Alstad has an older brother, three nephews and three nieces. The family is planning a memorial service for him in Minnesota.

Adrien Alstad was shot in the chest about 2:20 a.m. yesterday.Alstad worked at Annie's Paramount Steak House on 17th Street NW. "Customers loved him," manager Leigh Hendricks said.