A restaurant rivalry is about to renew across from Mariano Park.
Details are sparse, but Phil Stefani has announced that he’s taking over the restaurant space inside the Thompson Hotel and opening in the spring. The hotel’s current restaurant, the award-winning Italian seafood restaurant Nico Osteria, will close in the fall.
In 2013, One Off Hospitality Group opened Nico, bringing a big name to the Gold Coast, a haven for tourists accustomed to steakhouses like Gibsons and Morton’s. One Off departed Nico Osteria in 2018, leaving the Thompson in charge of the dining room.
Erling Wu-Bower earned three Beard nominations for best chef, Great Lakes while working at the Gold Coast restaurant. Though five years removed from the space, One Off co-founder Donnie Madia reflected on what his team accomplished, saying that they “loved Nico immensely” and were “incredibly grateful for the time we spent on Rush Street” working alongside folks like Gibsons’ Steve Lombardo and other restaurant owners.
“Although we departed from this location years ago, we were lucky that the guest relationships fostered in this neighborhood have since carried over to many of our other restaurants,” Madia writes in a statement. “For the people who are parting now and for the new owners, we wish you good luck and the best in this venture moving forward.”
Though reservations are showing through September, a worker at the Thompson says construction on the restaurant is expected to start in November which means Nico Osteria should close by mid-October.
Stefani’s announcement reignites a rivalry as he’s quite familiar with the corner of Bellevue and Rush. He operated Tavern on Rush for 24 years before it closed in October, the result of a contentious relationship with the building’s landlords. Nico Osteria is a mere 140 feet away from the former Tavern space. Its former landlords, Fred Barbara and Jim Banks, have remodeled and in May they opened the Bellevue to bring new energy into a restaurant that was once a celebrity magnet in the ‘90s.
The opening was to Stefani’s chagrin. In August 2022, he told Eater Chicago in announcing Tavern’s closure that he had doubts that his former landlords would have success without him and his staff. According to Crain’s, Stefani hasn’t ruled out bringing the Tavern on Rush name out of its brief retirement. The family, which runs 14 restaurants, including Bar Cargo in River North and the mini-chain of Broken English Taco Pubs, tells Eater Chicago that they’re keeping all their options open and should have more information in the coming weeks.