It would appear that Boka Restaurant Group is making lemonade as the company has acknowledged that its River North French restaurant “just did not resonate the way we dreamed for it to.”
On Monday afternoon, the restaurant group, led by founders Kevin Boehm and Rob Katz, announced they were converting Le Select, 504 N. Wells Street, into a private event space. This also includes Bar 504 on the second floor.
The plan, according to a Boka rep, is for Le Select to immediately shift to exclusively hosting events through the end of 2023. In January, they’ll temporarily close for about a month. Expect light renovations with some small design changes and furniture removal. The idea is to further optimize the restaurant space, making it more attractive for private parties. The Le Select name will vanish after the work’s finished.
Boka says that for years they’ve been wanting a private event venue for its catering arm. After Le Select’s conversion, they’ll be able meet an increased demand for “for more versatile event spaces” while giving customers better options. They’re already taking event inquiries.
Le Select opened in January 2023, one of the city’s most eagerly waited debuts with all the glitz that comes when Boka unveils a new space including a VIP opening party. Crews gutted the former Bottled Blonde space, transforming the controversial party bar into what they’d hope would become a bustling brasserie. Boka is a Chicago hitmaker that won a James Beard Award in 2019. Other restaurants include Momotaro, GT Prime, and Alla Vita.
Adding to the hype was Le Select’s opening chef, Daniel Rose, the suburban Chicago native who left America as a teen for culinary school in France. He would later open Michelin-starred restaurants in Paris. Rose, who has fans across the globe, also backed New York’s lauded Le Coucou. But the rapport between Rose and Boka soured thanks, in part, to Le Select’s middling reception by local critics. Rose and Boka split in May. Boka attempted to salvage the restaurant by bringing in chef Chris Pandel of its Fulton Market steakhouse, Swift & Sons, to revamp the menu. Five months later, the company is pivoting once more toward private events.
In a statement, Boehm says the idea of a dedicated private event space has long been on the company’s mind:
Taking chances is in Rob and my DNA — this shared trust in our vision has allowed us to continue opening restaurants together for over two decades. We lean into the artistry of this process and are extremely fortunate that most of our ideas have been embraced. Listening to feedback is a crucial part of our job, and we understand that the Le Select concept just did not resonate the way we dreamed for it to. We are confident, however, that the next chapter of this incredible space is a home for the execution of Boka Restaurant Group private events. We’ve been searching for the right space to do so for years, and we believe we’ve found it — it’s the right space for this natural evolution.
It’s an unusual chain of events for a company that isn’t used to closing restaurants. Even a closure like Little Goat Diner in West Loop was followed by the restaurant relocating to Lakeview. Another closure, GT Fish & Oyster, which stood just north of Le Select, enjoyed a healthy 12-year run.