Warner LeRoy, 65, who offered Washington one of the most opulent dining experiences in the city's history as operator of the spectacular but short-lived Potomac restaurant, died Thursday in New York of complications of lymphoma.
In Manhattan, Mr. LeRoy brought his flair for showmanship to the operation of two of the city's most beloved restaurants, Tavern on the Green and the Russian Tea Room.
As the impresario of the Potomac, Mr. LeRoy, the son of the producer of "The Wizard of Oz," created a kind of extravaganza of eating, a Hollywood of mealtimes, a riverside palace of crystal chandeliers, huge glass windows and a model train that circled the perimeter.
Located on the edge of the Potomac River in the Washington Harbour complex in Georgetown, the restaurant took in millions during its 15 months of operation in 1986 and 1987, but recorded expenses of even more millions.
The $12 million restaurant opened Aug. 30, 1986, with 600 guests who gushed superlatives to reporters after walking up five terraces to reach the dining area and paying $175 each for a seven-course meal, with the proceeds slated for charity.
Months later, one of the restaurant's financial officials summarized what had gone wrong. "Not having enough operating cash, not doing enough business and the high cost of occupancy," he said.
Mr. LeRoy, whose mother was Doris Warner, daughter of movie mogul Harry Warner, grew up amid the glitter of the film capital. He studied drama at Stanford University, had some success as a producer and director and was described as one of the architects of the off-Broadway theater movement.
His greatest success came when he turned his hand to the creation of restaurants: His legerdemain converted a mere New York City coffee shop into one of its gastronomic shrines, the restaurant Maxwell's Plum.
During its 22 years of operation, which began in 1966, show business stars clustered at its tables, surrounded by objects from Mr. LeRoy's own collection of Tiffany glass.
In 1973, he rescued Tavern on the Green from financial problems. It emerged from three years of renovations as a palatial destination that in the 1990s took in more cash than any dining spot in the nation.
Mr. Leroy followed a similar course with the Russian Tea Room, which he bought in 1995. Known as a meeting place and hangout for top artistic and show-world figures, it was closed for a $30 million makeover in 1996 and reopened three years later.
According to the Associated Press, Mr. LeRoy also created the 1,500-acre Great Adventure amusement and Safari theme park in Jackson Township, N.J. LeRoy sold his interest in the park to Time Warner in 1993.
"A restaurant is a fantasy, a kind of living theater in which diners are the most important members of the cast," he once told an interviewer.