Renovation revives original opulent appearance
About a year after the historic, opulent Gage & Tollner restaurant on the Fulton Mall was originally slated to reopen after being closed since 2004, it’s finally open — but for takeout and delivery only.
The restaurant, which dates back to the late 19th century has two takeout and delivery options, according to its website. The first, “Gage & Tollner at Home,” offers two meal kits: A Dry-Aged Ribeye Diner for two to four guests; and a Braised Heritage Pork Dinner for four to six guests. Each one offers several side dishes and a cocktail as an “extra.”
The second, “Sunken Harbor Club to Go,” offers a selection of globally inspired cocktails and Asian comfort foods sold a la carte. Drinks include tiki classics like the Jungle Bird and the Mai Tai, as well as Sunken Harbor Club originals such as the Sultan’s Good Counsel and The Long Nine.
In the original heyday of Downtown Brooklyn, Gage & Tollner attracted the city’s (and later the borough’s) wealthy and influential residents. In the days when the harbor was less polluted and oysters were plentiful in the New York area, it specialized in seafood as well as steaks and chops. Indeed, a 1919 menu includes 24 preparations for Saddle Rock oysters, according to an Eagle article published 100 years later.
Food aside, Gage & Tollner was also known for its wood-paneled décor, its massive mirrors framed by cherry wood, and its brass chandeliers. Although, like most places, it switched from gas to electric light when electric light became commonplace, it retained its gaslight hookup and, according to some old-timers, every New Year’s Eve it turned on the gaslight, to the “oohs” and “ahhs” of diners.
Famous people who dined there over the years included Mae West, Truman Capote, Jimmy Durante and Diamond Jim Brady.
In its last days as a full-scale restaurant, Gage & Tollner went through several owners, including Peter Aschkenasy, whom the website identifies as an “established New York City restaurateur and political power broker,” and Joe Chirico, owner of Marco Polo Ristorante in Carroll Gardens.
Afterward, it became a TGIFridays, then an Arby’s, and finally a discount convenience store, which covered the historic walls with pink partitions and racks of costume jewelry that were decried by preservationists.–>
A 2019 Eagle article by Mary Frost quoted several people who had eaten in the old Gage & Tollner.
“The Dover sole was to die for. The she-crab soup was amazing,” said longtime Brooklyn Heights resident Jane McGroarty. “I liked the oyster broil, which was just some oysters and cream and paprika and pepper. And the shad and shad roe! … I don’t see that anymore.”
Chemical scientist James Cawse, who used to dine at the legendary eatery with his father, Judge Alfred J. Cawse, said, “I had one of my first soft-shell crabs here, but also I had been reading a book on whaling. At that point they had whale steak. That was when whaling was legal. You’re talking early ’60s.”
The revival of the restaurant took a step forward in early 2019, with newly revealed interior designs getting a thumbs up from the city.
The city Landmarks Preservation Commission unanimously approved new owners Sohui Kim, Ben Schneider and St. John Frizell’s renovation plans for the interior of the restaurant at 372 Fulton St.
In testimony at the hearing, Historic Districts Council Executive Director Simeon Bankoff said, “The return of Gage & Tollner is an occasion for joy.”
He called the restaurant’s reopening “a wonderful event for Brooklyn and New York” and said, “The broad interest and anticipation of this long-vanished restaurant’s return cannot be overstated.”