It took reams of public relations copy just to describe the ritzy, glitzy Potomac restaurant when Warner LeRoy, the New York producer of theatrical restaurants, opened it 16 months ago.

LeRoy, owner of Tavern on the Green and Maxwell's Plum in New York, seemed to be everywhere, talking about the one-of-a-kind, 20,000-square-foot "spectacle" restaurant on the Georgetown bank of the Potomac River. Built at a cost of $12 million, Potomac was not just a restaurant, he said, but a "grand cafe," "art" and "a showplace."

Opening night, 600 guests were treated to champagne, a seven-course meal, acrobats and fireworks at a party to benefit Children's Hospital. The next day, hundreds of paying customers waited, some for more than two hours, for what food consultant Ann Brody called "mediocre food."

"I do things people react to strongly," LeRoy said recently of the restaurant.

Ultimately, LeRoy said before the restaurant opened, it didn't matter to him whether people came or not. "If they don't, I'll go back to my garden," he said.

People came, but Potomac closed Oct. 26 and filed for protection under Chapter 11 of the bankruptcy laws a day later. Since then, it has been the talk of the local restaurant community.

Potomac apparently didn't die for lack of business; LeRoy claims it was profitable to the end and had revenue of $10 million its first year, serving 375,000 a la carte meals.

Rather, the restaurant was beset by a host of other problems. Some of them are traceable, by many accounts, to LeRoy's own failings as a restaurant impresario, including his admitted lack of personal attention to the restaurant. Once Potomac opened, LeRoy said, he spent only three days a month in Washington.

"There was an incredible sense of arrogance about Mr. LeRoy's approach," said Washingtonian magazine restaurant critic Robert Shoffner, adding that in an early interview LeRoy characterized Washington diners as those who went to political receptions and backyard cookouts.

Potomac's demise has had a greater impact than most restaurant closings.

More than 360 employes lost their jobs. Washington Harbour lost its largest restaurant and a part of the critical mass of restaurants needed to draw customers to the area. Contractors and vendors are out more than $1.8 million, according to the unpaid debts listed in the bankruptcy filing of Cafe Partners, the limited partnership that owned Potomac.

And, in the view of some, the Washington restaurant scene logged another black eye.

"Personally, it makes me incredibly angry, because a lot of career people lost jobs with no warning at all," said Mark Caraluzzi, owner of Ecco Cafes and a restaurant consultant. "It gives restaurants a bad name," he said, because the closing hurts those who planned weddings or parties and lenders will remember the Potomac story when other restaurateurs seek loans.

"It's a big deal to close a restaurant," Brody said. "The restaurant itself was not empty or unsuccessful. There has to be a lot more to the story."

There are a number of answers, none of them simple, to the question of what went wrong at Potomac. Among them are poor per-meal profit margins and table turnover, undercapitalization, absentee ownership, and lapses in management, food and service.

Perhaps most importantly, the answer lies in battles between two titans: LeRoy, 52, a charming, 270-pound party giver and deal maker whose friends tend to be other than those he does business with, and Herbert S. Miller, president of Western Development -- LeRoy's landlord.

Both men have problems on other fronts. The 300 employes of LeRoy's Tavern on the Green in New York have been distributing leaflets outside the Central Park restaurant complaining that workers are treated unfairly. Meanwhile, other tenants of Washington Harbour have hired lawyers to look into what they call unfair fees for maintenance of the building and its commonly used areas.

The battles between LeRoy, who said he put about $3 million of his own money into Potomac, and Miller, who said he loaned LeRoy more than $2 million and made hundreds of thousands of dollars in changes to accommodate LeRoy's sometimes unusual needs, started long before the restaurant's closing.

"The seed of the problem was in the construction," LeRoy said last week. In fact, everyone involved agrees that construction was a nightmare, but each blames someone else.

Although LeRoy signed a lease for the space at Washington Harbour in 1983, he took more than a year to submit plans for the space, according to Miller. When the plans came, Miller said, they were incomplete, and concrete had already been poured in different places than LeRoy specified. "We made the changes he wanted," Miller said, "even though they cost us hundreds of thousands of dollars."

In December 1985, LeRoy halted construction by his contractor, Gordon-Maizel Construction of Silver Spring, claiming that arguments with the landlord prevented him from proceeding. When building restarted, LeRoy acted as his own general contractor.

"The problem was that once they let the general contractor go, LeRoy's people didn't know what they were doing," said one of the subcontractors, who asked not to be named. The result was that there were many delays, causing the restaurant to open more than seven months behind schedule.

In October 1986, LeRoy sued Miller and his partners in Washington Harbour -- Richard L. Kramer, Gerald L. Dillon, CSX Resources Inc.-Georgetown and Kanam Realty Inc. The suit, which was later settled out of court, alleged that Washington Harbour Associates had breached Potomac's lease in a variety of ways. Items listed included not allowing taxi signs, problems with tree plantings, slow elevators and charges for maintenance of common areas that LeRoy said were out of line with what he had been led to expect.

Despite the settlement, the disputes between LeRoy and Western Development continued. Following its bankruptcy filing, Cafe Partners filed a $68 million lawsuit against Washington Harbour Associates alleging that the landlord breached its agreement with the restaurant's owners.

LeRoy said Potomac's problems with Washington Harbour played a large part in his decision to shut down Potomac. "I filed {for bankruptcy} because money isn't everything. ... I have all the financial backing that I need myself," said the restaurateur, who is the son of the late Hollywood director Mervyn LeRoy. "When the agony gets greater than the ecstasy, it's time to stop," he said.

Only Cafe Partners -- which consists of LeRoy and about 20 partners -- is involved in the Potomac bankruptcy. LeRoy's New York restaurants and other personal assets are not involved, he said. LeRoy filed for reorganization of Potomac's assets rather than the more final step of liquidation. Asked whether he felt Potomac could be reopened, he would only say: "The final chapter hasn't been written yet."

LeRoy's landlord and other creditors take issue with his version of the events that led to the restaurant's closing.

"I don't understand any of this," Miller said of LeRoy's complaints. "We constantly made concessions to them" that included loans, lower rent and changing construction plans. "Warner is a very litigious individual. He uses lawsuits as a vehicle to get his way."

"Nobody worked harder than we did" to make the restaurant succeed, Miller said. "The city was ready for a spectacle restaurant, if it had been well run. ... It's a shame. It could have been one of the great restaurants."

Said restaurant consultant Caraluzzi of the disagreements between the two men: "They should be ashamed of themselves. ... Both may have grievances, but it's a selfish kind of thing. The idea that LeRoy and the landlord can't work it out is babyish and sort of sad."

Even before the restaurant's owners filed for bankruptcy, there had been widespread feeling in the close world of restaurant suppliers that the glittery eatery was in trouble.

"Potomac was having problems with everybody," said one industry source who asked not to be identified. "They didn't pay their bills."

"They had dropped behind in their payments," said Brian Willard, vice president of Metropolitan Poultry, who said Potomac was more than 60 days behind. "They were telling us that summer business hadn't done as well as they thought it would."

"With the investment they had in fixtures and things, we thought we'd have a little more warning" if things really went sour. Willard said his company is owed $40,000 -- "and that's a lot for us."

Bernie Kolker, one of the owners of Washington Beef, said that after a disagreement about credit terms, Washington Beef stopped supplying Potomac several months after it opened. "Their interpretation of our terms was different from ours," Kolker said. "Then they got someone else. ... I guess I got lucky."

Perhaps the unluckiest of Potomac's creditors were the seven companies that built the restaurant. The general contractor, subcontractors, plumbing and air conditioning firms still are owed a total of $1.3 million, according to papers filed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court.

Several of those firms had been in arbitration with Potomac's owners and thought they were close to a settlement when Potomac filed for bankruptcy. A bankruptcy action stops arbitration proceedings.

Gordon-Maizel, the firm that acted as general contractor for the project, was scheduled to go to arbitration Dec. 1 over the $740,600 it is owed. At least one other firm, L&R Mechanical of Greenbelt, which is owed $120,000, already had begun arbitration.

The arbitration proceedings were factors in the closing of the restaurant, LeRoy said. But in a series of interviews over the past two weeks, LeRoy kept returning to problems with Washington Harbour Associates. "I think the landlord thought that we would never close because we were doing so well," he said.

Although LeRoy stressed that the restaurant was making money, he admitted it "had a long way to go. It's a big ship."

Restaurant industry sources question LeRoy's claim of $10 million in revenue and 375,000 meals served the first year. Many diners went only for dessert and coffee after seeing uniformly bad reviews of the food. (Shoffner's review said if the Potomac were a ship, it would be called the Titanic.) Those customers left the restaurant far short of the $32-a-seat check experts said it needed to succeed.

Customers also were said to be put off by the restaurant's lack of a bar or lounge in which to wait and the high parking fees at Washington Harbour. Most of Washington's best restaurants have free valet parking, critics pointed out.

Food consultant Brody says that attitudes on the part of both diners and management were a factor in the restaurant's closing. "If the food had been simple and consistent, it might have worked," she said. But Washington Harbour probably doesn't get the traffic it needs for a restaurant that large, she added, while Washington diners are not as adventurous as those in New York, where the in thing is to open huge restaurants in loft-like spaces.

"It may have been that Washington was the wrong market for a New York-style restaurant," said Rob McLallen, president of Tricon Hospitality Consultants in Fairfax. "New York is a truly unique place in the restaurant business. ... Something that goes there may not go in other places."

"It was a tactical disaster. People waited hours ... and word of mouth started sinking it from the beginning," said Shoffner, who called the food "truly awful." Even LeRoy admitted he was never satisfied with the food.

Some went for the show -- the view of the river at sunset, the extravagant decor that included a 20-foot ceiling with swirls of light bulbs, 800,000 handmade colored-glass jewels and 24 imported crystal chandeliers -- and the show itself may have been part of the problem. Sources said LeRoy went way over budget on both the fixtures and publicity to hype them.

Special Correspondent John Kennedy in New York contributed to this article.