Brooklyn’s downtown Fulton Street Mall is not in the best of shape. New York’s first pedestrian mall has gradually been allowed to fall into disrepair and nowhere is the area’s gradual decline more evident than in the case of the former Gage and Tollner’s restaurant.
Opening in 1892, Charles Gage and Eugene Tollner’s eating house was one of the most luxurious restaurants in all of New York. Lit by 36 gas lamps, with walls of burgundy velvet Lincrusta-Walton, long bars made of mahogany, room length mirrors and cherry wood arches, Gage and Tollner’s was as prestigious to Brooklyn as Delmonico’s was to lower Manhattan. To give a sense of it’s relative grandeur, when it was landmarked in 1975, it was New York’s first landmarked dining room, and only it’s third landmarked interior; the first two were the New York Public Library and Grant’s Tomb.
For decades Brooklyn’s finest would be served she-crab soup, Baltimore broiled clams, English mutton chops and kidneys en brochette by waiters in gold striped uniforms that indicated their length of service, with the Gold Eagle the most prestigious award, signifying 25 years of service.
But as Fulton Street fell into decline in the 1980s, the well dressed dinner-goers stopped coming. The restaurant was forced to sell and it was converted to a TGI Fridays which closed in 2007. An Arby’s opened in 2010 but closed that same year.
Today, what was once Brooklyn’s most beautiful restaurant is a costume jewelry shop. But amidst the faux leather bags, and $2.99 bracelets, glimpses of it’s former glory can still be seen. Protected by its being on the landmark list, the gas lamps are still there, while the cherry wood arches which led from the front dining room to the back are also still in place but obscured by signage. The long mahogany bar is now a display for the copious amounts of costume jewelry. The frosted glass proudly bearing the name “Gage and Tollner” is also still on the revolving door near the same doric columns that once welcomed the evening’s guests, but is now overshadowed by a sign declaring, “Everything Must Go!” A trip up the shabby carpets to the former upper dining rooms still sees the original brass bannisters and wall ensconces but now lead the stairway leads to a nail salon and a tattoo parlor, both of which are ready to close.
As Brooklyn (as with all of New York) continues to change, there may yet be a second life in the cards for Gage & Tollner’s formerly opulent space, but it may have to wait until the entirety of the Fulton Street Mall is revamped. Until then, the remnants of that former glory will continue to speak to the potential of the aging shopping space. Update December 2016: This is no longer a jewelry shop but is empty and locked up, although you can get a sense of what it was like by peering in the window.