The Bite

Is the Denver Art Museum looking to expand more than its gallery space?

Med alert! D Diamond is fighting for the life of her four-year-old restaurant, Ilios (1201 Broadway). The owner/manager of this Mediterranean eatery has seen trouble before -- first, she had to wrest the place from her ex-husband, Bobby Rifkin, and not long after that, she lost her chef, Sean Brasel, a loyalist who's now working at Rifkin's Touch, a popular restaurant in South Beach, Florida. (Rifkin's also the fellow who brought us the Diamond Cabaret, among other more local ventures.) But now Diamond is battling a bigger opponent: The City of Denver, which wants to free up the block on which Ilios sits for a $150 million parking garage and housing project connected to the $62.5 million Denver Art Museum expansion approved by voters three years ago.

"This is just horrible, horrible," Diamond says. "I have worked my ass off for four years to make this place happen, and now they can just come in and pull it right out from under me."

That's because she only leases the space that houses Ilios, and last week a Denver City Council committee voted to start condemnation proceedings on the building if the structure's owner, Landie Family LLLP, can't come to terms with the property's would-be developer, Mile High Development.

Location Info


Diamond Cabaret & Steakhouse

1222 Glenarm Place
Denver, CO 80202

Category: Bars and Clubs

Region: Downtown Denver

Neither Landie nor Mile High officials returned my calls. Who did call back? City councilmembers Ed Thomas, who represents the district in which Ilios sits, and Debbie Ortega, one of the more vocal opponents of the condemnation. For his part, Thomas swears that Mile High president Bill Mosher -- former head of Downtown Denver Inc. -- will make good on a pledge to include Ilios in the new development, which will feature not only parking and "affordable housing" (28 units costing $150,000 to $200,000 each out of a total 140 units, many of which will be priced close to a cool million), but also retail and restaurants.

That's all well and good, says Diamond, but what is she supposed to do between next January, when her building is scheduled to disappear, and several years from then, when the project is expected to be completed? "So I close my restaurant and I allegedly get my bills paid for now, but then how do I earn money in the meantime?" she asks. "I suppose they think I should just go get a job as a secretary or something until this all works out. So far, no one is saying anything that makes this feasible."

Which is why Diamond has hired a lawyer to negotiate a deal with city officials -- people the attorney knows well, since she's Stephanie O'Malley, daughter of Mayor Wellington Webb. The complete council city is expected to vote on the condemnation issue by the end of June; I hope O'Malley has a good hard hat.

Meanwhile, the art museum is wasting no time trying to determine what its patrons might require in terms of eating opportunities should the development go through. Last Friday afternoon, a museum volunteer stopped a Westword staffer by the coffee counter and asked him to answer a five-page questionnaire regarding what restaurants he might like to see in the expanded museum, quizzing him about such specific operations as Wolfgang Puck, California Pizza Kitchen, Chili's, Applebee's and Macaroni Grill -- chains all.

She then asked him how often he ate at restaurants around the museum, including Ilios, Pint's Pub (221 West 13th Avenue) and Dozens (236 West 13th Avenue), and what he thought of their service and prices; the questionnaire also went into considerable detail regarding Palette's, Kevin Taylor's full-service restaurant in the museum itself. From the extensive quizzing, it seems like the museum plans to get into the restaurant biz in a big way. But according to Janet Meredith, DAM's marketing director, the restaurant survey was just a one-weekend deal supplementing the museum's regular, ongoing exit survey that usually addresses non-food-related DAM issues. "In early March, we met with a restaurant consultant who specializes in museums and told him that we think we could be doing better with our in-house cafe," Meredith explains. "Palettes has worked extremely well for us here, but all of us -- and Kevin Taylor, too -- agree that the cafe just doesn't work. In other cities, the museum cafes are really well used, and ours isn't. So we thought we'd ask people what they would like to see, so we can see where we've been going wrong." The questionnaire applies only to the interior space, she adds, and technically doesn't address the issue of whether Ilios, or any restaurant, will occupy other buildings proposed in the DAM expansion plans.

"We realized the restaurant industry is one thing that we don't know much about," Meredith says. "If we got the 200 people this survey needed to get a clearer picture of where we want to go with this, then it's over. And then, hopefully, we'll be able to think it through smarter when we try a cafe again."

The museum's expansionist plans aside, it was a beautiful day in the neighborhood on Monday, May 14, when ink! Coffee opened at 970 Lincoln Street, right next to the Spicy Pickle and just five blocks from the museum. In case neighbors had missed the previous week's fliers, they were reminded of the new coffeeshop's debut by clever, sidewalk-chalk graffiti pointing them in the right direction for a hefty helping of caffeine. (Unlike a similar, if doomed, IBM campaign in California, ink! was smart enough not to use permanent paint.) Ink! brews excellent coffee -- it purchases its beans through, and you can, too -- and also stocks tasty baked items (try the pretzels covered with chocolate and caramel for 75 cents each). While the space is a little too overstuffed-chair chainlike for my taste, the atmosphere is inviting, and the people who work there are truly friendly (for now -- and in this town, that could change by the time you read this sentence).

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