This Brooklyn Oyster Bar Is a Glamorous Time Warp
By the time the namesake owners of Gage & Tollner retired in 1911, the Brooklyn oyster house was already a fixture on the New York dining scene. It first opened in 1879 on Fulton Street, Brooklyn’s main thoroughfare at the time, and soon became a favorite stop for the peckish shoppers hitting the street’s department stores. When the Brooklyn Bridge was completed four years later, this slice of the outer borough also became an enticing adventure for Manhattan diners. Gage & Tollner’s Victorian-era decor encapsulated the “Gay Nineties” with cherry-wood trim, gas-electric chandeliers and arched mirrors lining the walls. Then, as now, the menu consisted largely of seafood, steak and chops. But back then, patrons could order oysters in one of two dozen preparations, including milk-broiled and bacon-topped. Actress Mae West and, later, author Truman Capote, were regulars back in the day. In the 1980s the owners brought on celebrated Southern chef Edna Lewis to run the kitchen, but on Valentine’s Day in 2004, after a 125-year run, the restaurant shut down.
In the years following the restaurant’s closing, a string of fast-food chains, from Arby’s to TGI Fridays, moved in. None lasted more than a few years and thanks to the interior’s landmark status (granted in 1975), the old decor was kept largely intact. In 2019, three New York restaurateurs hoping to restore the legendary eatery signed the lease. Sohui Kim, Ben Schneider and St. John Frizell planned to reopen Gage & Tollner on March 15, 2020—just one day before Covid-19 precautions closed restaurants statewide. The trio pivoted to takeout and delivery until April 15, when they finally declared Gage & Tollner 2.0 open for dining. A second-floor kitchen is being transformed into a nautical-themed cocktail bar, but the main floor is a veritable time machine. “Who would want to take away these gorgeous gas brass lamps?” said Ms. Kim. Even new additions—like the wall covering—hark back to the early 1900s. The goal, said Ms. Kim, is for “people to walk in and say, oh my God, I was here in 1965, and this place still looks amazing.”
History Hidden in Plain Sight
Three other architectural standouts in Brooklyn all too easy to overlook.
Not every landmarked building in Brooklyn has undergone a romantic revival. A short walk from Gage & Tollner leads to some of the borough’s prettiest buildings with unglamorous day-to-day functions:
Dime Savings Bank of Brooklyn The former main branch of the bank—where you could open a savings account with just a dime—dates back to 1906. It’s now part of a massive redevelopment project and will soon house shops and offices. 9 DeKalb Ave.
Main Brooklyn Post Office This extremely grand c. 1890 building pulled out all the Romanesque Revival stops for such mundane business. 291 Cadman Plaza E.
John Rankin House Once upon a time in the 1840s, this Greek Revival-style mansion overlooked farmland and the Upper New York Bay. Today, it houses a funeral home. 440 Clinton St.
Grub Inflation / Menu Items at Gage & Tollner, Past and Present
Small Blue Point Oysters: 30 cents
Lobster Salad: $1.10
Top Sirloin Steak: $1.35
Chocolate Éclairs: 15 cents
Box of House Cigars: $7
East Coast Oysters: $44
Wedge Salad: $14
T-Bone Sirloin: $4.05 per ounce
Baked Alaska For Two: $24
Tote bag: $25
SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS
What memorable meals have you enjoyed at Gage & Tollner, and do you plan to visit the restaurant again? Join the conversation below.
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