The Forum lives.
Downtown Minneapolis' priceless art deco treasure, depressingly dark for the past three years, is coming back to life, thanks to the partnership behind the ongoing restoration of another Twin Cities dining legacy, the Lexington in St. Paul.
Restaurateurs Josh Thoma, Kevin Fitzgerald and Jack Riebel — with new partner Lorin Zinter — just signed a 20-year lease on the mint green-and-mirrors confection in the City Center complex, and they have big plans for it.
"We thought it would be cool to do a modern Italian restaurant in the heart of downtown Minneapolis," said Thoma. "Italian is a concept that resonates. Everyone gets it."
They're calling it Il Foro — that's Italian for "the Forum" — and the team has recruited chef Troy Unruh, a veteran of Del Posto, Mario Batali's top-rated New York City Italian restaurant, to run the kitchen.
Unruh is no stranger to the Forum kitchen; his first job out of Saint Paul College's culinary program in the mid-1990s was working in the Forum's kitchen, when the space was occupied by Goodfellow's.
Unruh is promising a "classic Italian menu" in an environment with "nice wine glasses but no white linens," he said.
Il Foro represents a homecoming for Riebel, too. The chef (most recently associated with Butcher & the Boar, where he garnered a coveted James Beard award nomination) clocked six years in the Goodfellow's kitchen. Thoma and Fitzgerald are partners in the North Loop's Smack Shack, and Zinter is a partner in the new four-star Heyday in south Minneapolis.
The Forum has a roller-coaster history, starting as an outlet for the Forum Cafeteria chain in 1930. Scottie's on Seventh, a restaurant/disco, took over in 1975. Lawsuits saved the building's interior from demolition, and its 3,500 components were meticulously cataloged, stored and installed in a new space when the City Center complex opened in 1983.
A parade of tenants followed, including Goodfellow's, which ran nine years until 2005. The room collected dust until 2010 when first-time restaurateur Jim Ringo gave it a shot with Forum. It lasted a year.
Four private dining rooms are a major draw for the new ownership.
"We're excited about those opportunities. … Corporate spending is back, and there aren't that many places downtown that do a power lunch," said Thoma.
The timeline is uncertain (Il Foro will debut first, then the Lexington), but the operative words are spring 2015. Historic preservation considerations will dictate a three- to four-month approval process, followed by a brief construction period.
Guided by Minneapolis-based ESG Architects, the built-in glitz — glowing chandeliers, cast plaster, gleaming Bakelite tiles, etched glass — will remain, secured by the room's place on the National Register of Historic Places.
"We want to position this historic space for the long term," said Thoma. "This space just has so much potential. You couldn't afford to build this today."