Gage and Tollner

New York City, New York (NY)

Gage and Tollner: riddled with bad luck.

Discover Gage and Tollner in New York

Pass between the tall, white twin columns and through the revolving door of Gage and Tolner and you will step into the bygone era of the 19th century. Situated in Fulton Mall in Downtown Brooklyn, New York, this restaurant was established in 1879 by Charles Gage. Since then it has become a well-known establishment.

Over the decades, the reins of Gage and Tollner passed through various hands, each adding their own chapter to its detailed story. However, the restaurant faced turbulent times in the early 2000s, culminating in its closure in 2004. Subsequent occupants, ranging from TGI Fridays to Arby's, occupied the space, but none could match the grandeur and allure of the original Gage and Tollner.

Gage and Tollner 5
- Dann Berg

Designing Gage and Tollner

Gage and Tollner’s exterior, predominantly visible from Fulton Street, features a wooden ground-level storefront adorned in the Neo-Grec style. This storefront features a pair of Doric columns supporting a modest portico, flanked by intricate details including colonettes topped with ornate capitals and a frieze. The upper stories boast brownstone cladding, embellished with moulded frames and adorned with corbels and cornices.

Stepping into the interior, guests are transported to a bygone era of Victorian opulence. The 2,083 square foot main dining room is characterised by electrical chandeliers, mahogany and cherry-wood furnishings, including a mahogany serving bar and booths, wainscoting and arched mirrors. These mirrors, framed in dark-red cherry, deliberately create an illusion of the dining room stretching on forever.

The restaurant's architectural and historical significance has been recognised with landmark designations in 1974 and 1975, affirming its status as a cultural landmark in New York.

Gage and Tollner
- Dann Berg

Gage and Tollner History

Early years

Gage and Tollner’s early history originated in the mid-1870s, when the structure at 372–374 Fulton Street was erected as a private residence. Initially owned by the Craft family, it housed a tailor's shop in the 1870s. In November 1879, Charles Gage established an "eating house" at 302 Fulton Street selling ale, lager, and dishes like lobster Newberg. Eugene Tollner joined him in 1880, leading to the establishment being known as ‘Gage & Tollner’ by 1882. In 1889, they relocated the restaurant to 372–374 Fulton Street.

Being positioned on one of Brooklyn's principal streets, Gage and Tollner quickly gained popularity among department-store executives, judges, and politicians. They were also drawn to the unique serving of oysters and clam bellies. Each summer, from June to September, the restaurant would close, due to the unavailability of oysters. This made its annual reopening a significant event.

Gage and Tollner 3
- Pardonmeforasking

By the early 1910s, Gage and Tollner stood as one of the few remaining "oyster houses" in Brooklyn. In December 1910, after 30 years of operation, Gage and Tollner handed over management to A.H. Cunningham and Alexander Ingalls. However, the founders continued to be involved, particularly after Ingalls's sudden death in February 1911.

Tollner continued working at Gage and Tollner until his passing, having devoted 56 years to the establishment. It has been said that throughout their 40-year long business relationship Gage and Tollner never had a single argument, with Tollner honouring their bond by naming his only son after Charles Gage.

The Dewey Chapter

In May 1919, wine merchant Hiram Stapleford Dewey acquired Gage and Tollner. Operating under a new corporation, the Dewey family preserved the restaurant's original name and service quality. By December of the same year, Seth Bradford Dewey, Hiram's son, assumed leadership alongside his business partner Alexander Graham.

Despite economic challenges during the Great Depression, Gage and Tollner endured Prohibition, distinguishing itself as the sole chop house in New York City to remain operational during this era. The repeal of Prohibition in 1935 restored the restaurant's fortunes, and the return of oyster dishes was popularly celebrated.

Gage and Tollner 1
- Marco

However, as Gage and Tollner celebrated its centennial in 1979 and received a listing on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982, economic pressures mounted. Declining clientele and neighbourhood safety concerns caused Seth’s sons, Ed Dewey and his brother Tom, who had taken over following Seth’s death in 1938, to sell in 1987.

The Aschkenasy Chapter

In November 1988, the restaurant was purchased by a partnership between Peter Aschkenasy, his wife Marcy Blum, and retired city official James F. Capalino. To broaden the restaurant's appeal, the new owners extended Gage and Tollner’s operating hours and enlisted the renowned chef Edna Lewis, known for her expertise in Southern cuisine, to revamp the menu.

Gage and Tollner 2
- Warsze

The new menu included Southern delights such as cornbread, catfish, and she-crab soup. But common American dishes like lobster and steak were also introduced. Peter Aschkenasy personally sourced ingredients from the Fulton Fish Market, while Lewis frequented local greenmarkets.

Despite Aschkenasy's commitment and the critical acclaim garnered by the new menu, Gage and Tollner's survival remained precarious against the backdrop of Brooklyn's declining downtown landscape. By March 1993, Aschkenasy filed for bankruptcy protection.

The Chirico Chapter

Acquiring the restaurant in June 1995, Joseph Chirico, a restaurateur linked with the Gambino crime family, invested over $1 million to renovate the historic establishment. Collaborating with architect Raymond Caliendo, Chirico achieved an award-winning restoration result characterised by a brand new cocktail bar and updated infrastructure.

Reopening in May 1996, Chirico's Gage and Tollner thrived once more, drawing in both local New Yorkers and international visitors. However, challenges returned, including competition from fast-food chains and accessibility issues due to its location on Fulton Mall.

The restaurant actively participated in local festivals and expanded its services to include private events, yet struggles with foot traffic persisted leading to Gage and Tollner's closure on February 14, 2004.

Other Uses

In 2004, Joseph Jemal purchased the building with plans to lease it to an upscale restaurateur while preserving its landmark interior. Despite efforts to attract high-end establishments, the space was rented to a T.G.I. Friday's franchise, which faced financial struggles and closed in 2007.

Subsequent tenants, including Amy Ruth's and an Arby's franchise, faced similar challenges and short-lived tenures. Renovations and attempts to lease to upscale restaurants were hindered by the small size of the ground floor and stringent regulations from the Landmarks Preservation Commission.

Gage and Tollner 1
- Marco

Reviving Gage and Tollner

In July 2018, a revival effort began with restaurateurs St. John Frizell, Sohui Kim, and Ben Schneider launching a crowdfunding campaign on Wefunder. Originally planning to open a bar, the trio shifted their focus upon learning of the restaurant's availability for lease. The crowdfunding goal was set at $600,000. Investors were promised interest payments once the restaurant became operational.

The campaign garnered substantial attention, quickly amassing donations exceeding $400,000 by January 2019. With significant support from the community, the lease was secured, and plans for restoration were set in motion. Sohui Kim was appointed as the new chef, with St. John Frizell taking charge as the bartender.

Restoration efforts included expanding the cocktail bar, refurbishing the original bar into a seafood bar, and the addition of dining booths and a cocktail lounge on the upper level. Despite setbacks due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which led to the indefinite postponement of the grand reopening in March 2020, the team persevered.

The revived Gage and Tollner finally opened its doors in February 2021, initially offering delivery and take-out services until indoor dining restrictions relaxed in the new post-Covid world. In recognition of its preservation efforts, the New York Landmarks Conservancy bestowed the Lucy G. Moses Preservation Award upon the restaurant's owners in 2022.

“Everything about this reincarnation glows... the whole restaurant radiates confidence, capability and relevance.”

Times restaurant critic Pete Wells.

In 2023, Pete Wells, Times restaurant critic, reaffirmed the restaurant's newfound popularity and success by ranking Gage and Tolner as the city's 43rd best restaurant.

Gage and Tollner
- Joe Shlabotnik

Preserving Tradition, Embracing Change

Throughout its history, Gage and Tollner maintained certain traditions that contributed to its unique ambiance. The restaurant had a notable practice of seating politicians according to their party affiliations, with Democrats favouring the west side and Republicans the east side of the dining room.

Waitstaff at Gage and Tollner wore a distinctive uniform – white aprons and black jackets adorned with bars, stars, and eagles signifying their years of service. This tradition dates back to at least the late 19th century, with each staff member adding a bar for every year worked, stars for every five years, and eagles for every 25 years.

Another charming tradition was the presence of cats on the property during its first century of operation, with Tollner himself caring for them, particularly on Sundays when the restaurant was closed.

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