Rocky Mountain Diner Forced to Close After 20 Years

(photo from Rocky Mountain Diner website)

If you've spent any time in downtown Denver, you've probably eaten at the Rocky Mountain Diner. At 18th and Stout Streets, it's one block from the old federal courthouse and the federal court of appeals, three blocks from the new federal courthouse. The Diner is housed in the historic Ghost Building, designed by architect William Lang in the 1800's for a man name A.M. Ghost.

The seats start filling up at 11:30 am, by noon, there's a wait. The food is terrific and plentiful (lunch menu here, dinner menu here, dessert menu here) and the atmosphere inviting and familial. To call it a Denver institution is not an overstatement. [More...]

I remember during the McVeigh trial, everyone ate there: the prosecutors, the agents, the defense team and the media. No one got special treatment in seating, but we always got in, and knowing we were on a short time leash, the staff always got us fed and able to check out on time.

Two of its owners, Tom and Barb Walls, are long-time friends of mine. So when I read yesterday it was closing immediately, I was doubly sad, first for them and the 40 member staff, many who have been working there for more than a decade, and then for the thousands of patrons who love to eat there.

Apparently, the lease is up and the landlord refused to extend new terms the restaurant owners could agree to. The Walls and their co-owner, Brad Anderson, say they are "devastated."

I just assumed, until today, that the big, bad landlord was some corporate behemoth that couldn't care less if the place sat empty while it tried to release the place at a jacked-up rate.

Then today at Westword I read that the landlord is Frances Koncilja. Frances is a long-time civil lawyer, tough as nails, very prominent in bar associations and that sort of stuff. Her law offices were above the Diner, but I never realized she owned the whole building.

Meanwhile, Koncilja, who has been the landlord for the past five years, has plans to open a restaurant in the empty space, according to Anderson, who notes, apologetically, that forty employees no longer have jobs. "The whole thing just sucks," he laments.

Yes, it does. While Tom, Barb, and Brad also own the Trinity Grille (near the Brown Palace), Choppers in Cherry Creek (a sports bar) and the Castle Cafe (great for fried chicken in Castle Rock), losing the Diner is a huge deal, for them and for the downtown community.

According to Westword, Frances has plans to open her own restaurant in the space and served an eviction notice on the diner after they couldn't reach agreement on lease terms.

...last Friday, the owners received an eviction notice from Frances Koncilja, the building's landlord. "We tried and tried and tried to negotiate a new lease, and we were legitimately offering above-market rent in a downmarket, but we got a letter on Friday from the landlord telling us that we had exactly ten days to vacate," Anderson tells me over schooners in the rusticated dining room. "It doesn't make sense. We're still in shock that it ended like this -- so abruptly, so senselessly."

But the Denver Business Journal writes:

In a statement, attorney Koncilja -- who was a statewide co-chair of Gov. John Hickenlooper's transition team -- said she was "surprised" by Walls' decision to close and said she was seeking another business for the site.

How surprised could she be after serving an eviction notice? There must be more to the story (there always is) but the bottom line is downtown Denver has lost a much-loved institution and walking or driving by 18th and Stout just won't be the same. It will feel like there's a big hole there.

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    Darn! (5.00 / 1) (#2)
    by christinep on Mon Feb 21, 2011 at 02:55:06 PM EST
    Over the years, I literally ate there countless times. At different times, my office was within a block or two...19th & Stout, 19th & Champa. A favorite lunch stop then; and, later, a place I sort of sneak to for the best in comfort food. Yep, having a single person booth and having a sandwich for the purpose of the french fries or an occasional real "blue plate special" brings a smile now.
    When a cousin from back East visited last year, we went there while downtown to have the fun food of our youth. Who knows what really happened, as you say, Jeralyn. Maybe Frances Koncilja wanted more salads?!?  Ah, the ghost of Perry Mason.

    Sad to hear that (none / 0) (#1)
    by ruffian on Mon Feb 21, 2011 at 02:08:03 PM EST
    both at the loss of the Diner and at the way the Walls are being treated. I was only at the Diner once, and it was very good, but I lived in Castle Rock when I lived out there and was a frequent visitor to the Castle Cafe. You are right about the chicken - fabulous, as was every other meal I ever had there. It was a standard stop when I had out of town visitors, for the food, staff, and atmosphere. I loved the location in the old bank building.

    As hard as it it to open and run a new restaurant, I would think the owner of the Diner building downtown would be happy enough to just collect a decent rent on the space. I don't see this playing out well. I hope some national chain does not take that location.

    Does not seem like a good time to be losing (none / 0) (#3)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Mon Feb 21, 2011 at 03:03:31 PM EST
    paying lessees. And an even less good time to be trying your hand as a neophyte restaurateur.

    Say it aint so, Joe! (none / 0) (#5)
    by jimakaPPJ on Mon Feb 21, 2011 at 04:12:17 PM EST
    There goes another place that I have some fine, fine memories about.

    Another of our beloved institutions... (none / 0) (#6)
    by MileHi Hawkeye on Mon Feb 21, 2011 at 06:12:36 PM EST
    bites the dust--and that truly does just bite! I used to live at 17th and Glenarm, so I ate more than my share of meals at the RMD.  The food was always good and the servers always friendly.  I shall miss the place.  

    The gentrification of downtown marches on.  Soon it will be nothing but lousy chains and foo-foo places that charge an arm and a leg for "small plates" or whatever the trend of today is.  Stay strong Sam's and  Dixon's!

    Sigh (none / 0) (#7)
    by sj on Tue Feb 22, 2011 at 09:31:00 AM EST
    To me the RMD was itself gentrification.  Worked in the area a few years before RMD opened, and sure would have like to have had it around then.  Of course, there was the Woolworth's counter before Walmart bought them out and closed all the stores.

    That's an interesting point. (none / 0) (#8)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Tue Feb 22, 2011 at 11:47:32 AM EST
    Led me to look up the history of Woolworths. They were essentially the Walmart of their day.

    Sort of (none / 0) (#9)
    by sj on Tue Feb 22, 2011 at 12:02:43 PM EST
    They were definitely competition for Walmart which is why they were first squeezed and ultimately bought out.

    But they were more of a Target/Michaels/Cost Plus/Walgreens without electronics and books/music/movies.

    Loved Woolworths.  Did my Christmas shopping there as a kid.


    ya, i was talking mostly of their (none / 0) (#10)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Tue Feb 22, 2011 at 10:08:54 PM EST
    business practices.

    Ah (none / 0) (#11)
    by sj on Wed Feb 23, 2011 at 09:36:16 AM EST
    I was waxing nostalgic and not thinking.  Now you've returned the favor and got me interested in more research.

    my first law office (none / 0) (#12)
    by Jeralyn on Wed Feb 23, 2011 at 09:04:34 PM EST
    was above that Woolworths on 16th St. It was one of the last buildings left with live elevator operators. My rent was $400.00 a month for two offices, a reception area and a file/copy room. Thanks for reminding me of it, I haven't thought of the place in years.