For the first time in nearly 80 years, the Pump Room—the storied Gold Coast restaurant and favorite place for stars to see and be seen—will be known by another name.
The original Pump Room (1301 N. State Pkwy.) opened in 1938 in the Ambassador East Hotel and has passed through several ownership hands, including Lettuce Entertain You from 1976 to 1998. The restaurant group will return to the space (the hotel is now known as the Ambassador Chicago) and rename it Booth One, an homage to the Pump Room's celebrities-only table, with a projected opening of late fall.
Chefs Rick Tramonto and Doug Psaltis will serve as culinary directors and partners. Tramonto has known Lettuce founder Rich Melman for 30 years and first worked with the company at Avanzare restaurant, which later became Tru, where Tramonto also cooked. He co-owns R’evolution Restaurant in New Orleans and Seafood R’evolution in Ridgeland, Mississippi, lives in Barrington, and travels regularly to each restaurant. He'll join forces with Doug Psaltis (RPM Italian, RPM Steak, Bub City, Three Dots and a Dash, and the forthcoming Sushi-san).
Booth One has both culinary cred and serious sentimental appeal. Its key players told Chicago what makes this project so darn special.
In Melman's words:
"The new hotel owners approached me about 10 months ago. They wanted me to take over the restaurant. I said no but they kept persisting. I finally said OK. Now, I’m very excited about it.
"There is a little bit of a trend toward saving these wonderful old institutions. The original Four Seasons in New York had a poolroom and a grillroom. The new guys took it over—Rich Torrisi and Jeff Zalaznick—and it got a lot of press.
"When people start hearing the stories of what the Pump Room meant to Chicago and how famous the room was, they will be excited. Like when Paul Newman and Robert Redford [ate there] when they filmed The Sting. They had ham and cheese sandwiches and pilsners for dinner. Ten days straight. Or the time John Belushi was there with Roger Ebert and ordered a couple of hundred dollars worth of caviar. He ate it straight out of the jar—with his hands. Wild things would happen there. People would call ahead to try and find out who would be there that night. We would never tell them."
In Tramonto’s words:
"Rich has always been a consigliere to me; we have always kept in touch. Around last Thanksgiving, we went out for breakfast and he said, ‘We should do something together again.’ We started reminiscing about the Pump Room. It made sense and was very organic.
"I told Rich I needed a strong team [because I travel so often]. I love Doug Psaltis. We are cut from the same cloth. He is super-talented and underrated. His kitchens are well organized.
"Doug and I are working hard on the menu. We started studying all the old [Pump Room] menus and it became sort of magic. Contemporary Wellington. Lobster Thermidor. [We’re going for] nostalgic, old school meets new school, modern interpretations of the old menu, and some throwbacks. I think we are going to bring back the caviar staircase that I did at Trio and Tru. We’ll do breakfast, lunch, dinner, bar food, late-night, and room service.
"I love working with Rich. It’s great to be together again—like seeing an old girlfriend and realizing you are still in love."