Former Tru chef Rick Tramonto will return to Chicago to work with Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises inside the former Pump Room in Gold Coast. LEYE, unable to buy the rights to The Pump Room’s name, unveiled a new one for the space, Booth One. LEYE plans on opening the restaurant either in late October or early November at the former Ambassador East Hotel, 1301 N. State Parkway. The Pump Room carries a rich history that dates back to 1938. The most-recent incarnation of the former celebrity hot spot shuttered in July.
Tramonto opened Tru, in partnership with LEYE founder Rich Melman, in 1999. The chef helped push the restaurant toward Michelin-star status. Coincidentally, LEYE on Tuesday announced Tru would close on Oct. 7 after a 19-year run. Tramonto will be a partner and will work together with LEYE chef Doug Psaltis on Booth One’s menu. Psaltis is working on LEYE’s Sushi-San restaurant in River North.
“I was talking to Rick, and we were saying that Doug might be the most-underrated chef in Chicago,” Melman said.
With Tru and Intro Chicago closing in Lincoln Park, it appeared LEYE is backing away from fine dining. Tramonto’s arrival quiets that narrative a bit. Melman said the average check at Booth One will be about $65 to $75 per person, which isn’t terrible considering the neighborhood. Booth One’s fine dining won’t be at the level of Tru, Melman said. It will, however, mix in an element of fun, something sorely needed for the area.
Melman reminisced to the Tribune about how The Pump Room attracted stars like comedian John Belushi, and actors Paul Newman and Robert Redford to the space. LEYE owned The Pump Room from 1976 to 1998.
“We were there for 22 years — we never wanted to give the space up,” Melman told Eater Chicago. “We were very successful and it was a matter of the hotel wanting the space for themselves.”
Though he was tempted to recreate those halcyon days, Melman has opted for a more modern look. He’s inspired by how Major Food Group rebooted the Four Seasons restaurant in New York. They’ve opted for a contemporary look while preserving the historic feel. The globe lights that dangled from the ceiling are gone, but LEYE kept some of the previous decor for Booth One. Melman said he’d like to stay in the space for at least 20 more years, and he’s excited to be back.
“It was pretty wild during the 22 years we owned it,” Melman said. “We had a lot of celebrities staying at the hotel...but when it compares to Booth One, it’s hard to say it if it will be as wild. I know there’s a lot more choices in Chicago than there were 40 years ago when we took over.”
When told many of those new restaurants were his responsibility, thanks to LEYE’s aggressive expansions, he laughed. “Thank you,” Melman said.