It was a congratulatory atmosphere at the Landmarks Preservation Commission Tuesday afternoon. While there are times, quite often, when the commissioners are in agreement on the specifics of a project, it is rare that so many are visibly excited to the point of platitudes.
“Everyone has a personal story with Gage & Tollner,” explained LPC Chair Sarah Carroll, during the commission’s approval of the project. The iconic landmarked restaurant, located at 372-374 Fulton Street, was in operation in Downtown Brooklyn from 1892 to 2004. After it closed in 2004, the space had a number of tenants, including TGI Fridays, an Arby’s and a discount jewelry store.
Sohui Kim and Ben Schneider, owners of the restaurants Good Fork in Red Hook and Insa in Gowanus, have teamed with St. John Frizell, an owner of the Red Hook bar Fort Defiance, to bring back Gage & Tollner. They first heard about the space over a decade ago, they told commissioners, but only saw it for the first time fairly recently, when it became available.
“It was like walking into a cathedral,” said Frizell. “We were awestruck by it.” In the months since they decided to bring it back to life, Schneider added, “the people who come in off the street, when we have the doors open, from all walks of life, are so excited for this to come back.”
The stories continued. Commissioner Fred Bland, while praising the project, said that the first meal he ever ate in Brooklyn was at the restaurant and admitted that, at one point in the early 1980s, his firm, Beyer Blinder Belle, considered buying the restaurant during a period of financial straits.
Proposed changes to the interior include alterations to the ceiling and wall finishes, installing new wall fixtures, extending a non-historic bar that was added in the 1990s and putting in new banquette seating at the center of the space. Other work, including repairing parts of the floor and restoring mirrors in the back of the space, will be handled at the staff level.
The original textured Lincrusta wall covering and coat hooks will stay, while the scroll-patterned fabric on the walls will be replaced with new brocade in teal and burgundy. Freestanding tables and booths, included in the proposal, will not be attached to any of the interior surfaces and are not under the purview of the commission.
There was only one quibble in the entire meeting. Simeon Bankoff of the Historic Districts Council noted, after speaking reverently of the project in his public comments — so much so that some of the commissioners joked that they had never seen him so excited — that his only concern was the shininess of the brass legs of the tables proposed for the front of the restaurant. But Schneider said that the shininess is only present in photographs and that the brass they plan to use is more subdued.
Designated by the New York Landmarks Commission in 1975 for its importance in capturing the “atmosphere of the Gay Nineties,” the space is also one of only a handful of interiors of restaurants or bars designated in the city, and the only one outside Manhattan.
Carroll praised the work for its sensitivity, even the parts of the restoration that are not under their jurisdiction. “I can’t believe this will be anything but a complete, fabulous success,” Bland added.
The complete, approved proposal can be viewed in full here.
[Renderings by Eric Safyan / Architect via Landmarks Preservation Commission]
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