A forgotten Brooklyn landmark, once a treasure of the Gilded Age, will be restored to its former glory by a trio of restaurateurs.
The city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission enthusiastically approved plans Tuesday to revive the Gage & Tollner restaurant at 372 Fulton Street, where it has resided since 1892. After more than a decade of fantasizing about restoring the 127-year-old space—and after launching a crowdfunding effort that raised just shy of $500,000 for renovations—Ben Schneider, Sohui Kim, and St. John Frizell will revitalize the long-forgotten dining hall to its old New York glamor.
“I think that it will really be a magical place for people to step outside of their world and just get lost in a meal,” Schneider told Curbed, who owns the Good Fork in Red Hook and Insa in Gowanus with his wife, Kim. Their partner, Frizell, owns the Red Hook bar Fort Defiance.
Launched by Charles Gage and Eugene Tollner in 1879, the restaurant moved to its Brooklyn space years later. It was known for its ornate interior, which featured 36 gas lamps, burgundy velvet-lined walls, a long mahogany bar, and mirrored panels on either side of the restaurant. Those offered a seemingly never-ending view of, in what later on its legacy would have been waiters shepherding trays of she-crab soup and rhubarb pie to hungry diners. The restaurant, which features a neo-Grecian-style storefront in an Italianate townhouse, attracted plenty of characters, including actress Mae West, author Truman Capote, and early 20th-century financier “Diamond” Jim Brady.
“It played host to many famous New Yorkers, more importantly to us it was a place for generations of Brooklynites to celebrate life’s milestones,” said Frizell. “I can’t tell you how many people came out to tell us that they celebrated a wedding there, or a bar mitzvah, or their little league championship game, and it will be wonderful to have the space open again soon so people can continue to celebrate those things.”
The city designated its interior a landmark in 1975, and even though the restaurant closed in 2004, its relative grandeur lived on. It was briefly turned into a TGI Friday’s, then an Arby’s, and eventually a series of discount clothing stores. It wasn’t until Frizell and Schneider stepped into the somewhat rundown space a few years ago that a vision to bring it back emerged.
“It was like walking into a cathedral,” said Frizell. “We were just awestruck by it.”
Now, the trio have some 200 small investors and 35 equity investors involved with the project. With the green light from LPC, they plan to start work immediately and open sometime this fall.
Plans for the restaurant include lengthening and refinishing a non-historic bar that was installed in the ’90s, repurposing the original bar as a serving rack for seafood, repairing the hardwood floors, and bringing back the illuminated Gage & Tollner sign attached to the storefront.
The dining room will be furnished with cherry wood booths outfitted with maroon velvet, and the room-length mirrors will be restored to “recreate the infinity view that the restaurant is known for,” said Eric Safyan, an architect working on the space who is also an investor in the restaurant.
Upstairs will be a bit of a departure with a cocktail lounge meant to look like a “Victorian explorers club,” with wood paneling, rattan future, and plenty of maps and flags, says Schneider.
Prior to the landmarks vote, commissioners recalled memories of their own at Gage & Tollner before it shuttered and stressed the significance of its restoration for the community and generations of future diners.
“Everybody has kind of a personal story about Gage & Tollner,” said Sarah Carroll, the chairperson of the Landmarks Preservation Commission. “So what a wonderful opportunity for future generations to have their own experiences in this magnificence space.”