Downtown

Gage & Tollner designs revealed as Landmarks gives green light

Restaurateur trio is reviving famed Downtown Brooklyn dining spot

April 30, 2019 Lore Croghan
Here’s the renovation design for Gage & Tollner, which a restaurateur trio plans to reopen. Photomontage by Eric Safyan via the Landmarks Preservation Commission

The revival of Downtown Brooklyn’s famous Gage & Tollner took a step forward on Tuesday, with newly revealed interior designs getting a thumbs up from the city.

The city Landmarks Preservation Commission unanimously approved Sohui Kim, Ben Schneider and St. John Frizell’s renovation plans for the interior of the restaurant at 372 Fulton St. Schneider told the Brooklyn Eagle after the vote that renovation work will start ASAP.

At a hearing that preceded the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s vote, Schneider said he and his partners now have 200 small investors and 35 equity investors for the Gage & Tollner project.

Frizell told the commissioners about his and his business partners’ love for the iconic restaurant space they’re renting.

The first time the three of them set foot inside it two years ago, “it was like walking into a cathedral,” he said. “We were awestruck.”

From left: Ben Schneider and Sohui Kim of The Good Fork and St. John Frizell of Fort Defiance plan to reopen Gage & Tollner this fall. Eagle photos by Paul Frangipane.
From left: Ben Schneider and Sohui Kim of The Good Fork and St. John Frizell of Fort Defiance plan to reopen Gage & Tollner this fall. Eagle file photo by Paul Frangipane.

Brass chandeliers and mirrors galore

The Fulton Street building where the restaurant space is located belongs to 374 Fulton Associates LLC with Samuel Jemal as president, which bought it for $2.8 million in 2004, city Finance Department records show.

Gage & Tollner was in business for 125 years before closing in 2004. After it shuttered, tenants in the restaurant space included TGI Fridays, then Arby’s and later a shop that sold discount jewelry and clothing.

Though it is vacant at this moment, the restaurant space is an eye-popping sight.

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This design for the new Gage & Tollner's entrance draws its inspiration from a 1950s photo. Image via the Landmarks Preservation Commission
This design for the new Gage & Tollner’s entrance draws its inspiration from a 1950s photo. Image via the Landmarks Preservation Commission

A row of dramatic brass chandeliers hangs overhead. When they were installed in 1888, they were set up for dual use — to burn gas and use electricity.

Massive mirrors are framed by cherry-wood arches. Walls are covered with cut velvet.

The changes that project architect Eric Safyan devised for furniture, wall coverings and lighting fixtures had to be subtle because Gage & Tollner’s ground-floor dining room is an interior landmark. That means the commission must approve any alterations to it.

Proposed seating. Images via Landmarks Preservation Commission.
Proposed seating. Images via Landmarks Preservation Commission.

A small number of Brooklyn properties have landmarked interiors. Most city landmarking applies solely to properties’ exteriors, which cannot be demolished or altered without the commission’s permission.

The exterior of 372 Fulton St. is landmarked. The late Italianate-style townhouse was constructed in the 1870s. The storefront’s architectural style is neo-Grec.

Safyan based his design, down to the smallest details, on voluminous historic research. For instance, he created pendant lights to hang inside the restaurant’s front windows that are similar to lights in a 1950s photograph and a 1970s photograph.

Designs for booth seating. Image via Landmarks Preservation Committee.
Designs for booth seating. Image via Landmarks Preservation Committee.

Oysters and she-crab soup

Before the vote, Commissioner Jeanne Lutfy said she’s “really excited” about the restaurateurs’ plan to revive Gage & Tollner.

Lutfy complimented them on their work with their restaurants.

“You go in in a very understated way and make yourselves a part of the landscape … and become part of the community,” she said.

Schneider and Kim own The Good Fork in Red Hook and Insa in Gowanus. Frizell owns Fort Defiance in Red Hook.

Commissioner Frederick Bland recalled that the first meal he ever ate in Brooklyn was at Gage & Tollner in 1972.

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.”

The restaurateurs are planning to make Gage & Tollner a 21st-century version of an oyster and chophouse, which is what it was back in the day. In an Eagle story published in March, Frizell said they’ll definitely serve she-crab soup, which was a specialty of a former chef, Edna Lewis.

Follow Brooklyn Eagle reporter Lore Croghan on Twitter.

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