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Rich Melman taking over Pump Room

Rich Melman and Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises is taking over management of the Pump Room. | Facebook

Rich Melman and his Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises are taking over the legendary Pump Room.

The restaurant’s management is changing as the hotel prepares to be renamed The Ambassador. No decision has been made about the restaurant’s name, said Melman and former hotel owner Ian Schrager, who owns the Public Hotel and Pump Room names.

“I’m excited about doing this. I understand Chicago, and I understand the neighborhood,” Melman said about the restaurant and its place on the Gold Coast.

It’s a reunion for Melman, whose company ran the Pump Room from 1976 to 1998 when it was part of the Ambassador East Hotel.

“I’m thrilled to be doing it again in a more modern way,” Melman said.

Schrager, best known as a co-founder of the Studio 54 dance club in New York, bought the hotel at 1301 N. State Parkway and named it Public Hotel in 2011. He kept the restaurant as the Pump Room, much to the approval of Chicagoans who saw it as part of the city’s cultural history.

“Have nothing but respect, admiration, and affection for Rich Melman,” Schrager wrote in an email.

Schrager sold the hotel last year to Journal Hotels. The new owner did not respond to a request for comment.

There was a time when the Pump Room was a must-stop for celebrities who came through town. Frank Sinatra, Paul Newman and Josephine Baker were all familiar names to the clubby restaurant.

Schrager renovated the Public Hotel and the Pump Room.

Schrager’s Pump Room was sophisticated and modern. He replaced the dim lighting with shimmery bright orbs hanging from the ceiling.

In the Pump Room’s heyday, the menu wasn’t all that memorable. Customers were there for the people watching and a martini. More recently, the menu included kale salad.

Being close to the Magnificent Mile, it would have been a perfect spot for locals to hang out too. But that hasn’t really happened.

“We think we can bring the neighbors back,” said a source close to Lettuce Entertain You.

Melman said he can’t give details yet about what the new menu will be. “It’s going to be fun,” he said.