Gage & Tollner's back in the day

Gage & Tollner's storefront today

Back in 1979, when I was a young reporter working in The Daily News Brooklyn section, my editor turned to me one day and said, ‘Hey I want you to do a story about the 100th anniversary of Gage & Tollner’s.”

“Gage & Who?” I asked.

“Gage & Tollner’s,” the editor replied. “It’s an historic restaurant down on Fulton Street and it’s been there 100 years. Go do a story.”

So I walked down to Fulton Street, one of the most successful and, at the same time, ugliest outdoor strip malls in this country and there, in the middle of unbridled crass commercialism, was a gem of a restaurant with gas lights and original molding and waiters wearing little white coats. It was elegant and cool all at the same time. I was enthralled  and wrote a serviceable little piece about the 100th anniversary. But, like I said, I was taken by the place and I brought my wife back and we dined there a few times over the years.

And then, the restaurant went out of business. I tried to keep track of what was happening to that glorious space. Sadly, it became an Arby’s chain restaurant. That was pretty bad but nothing like what it is now. Today, this once beautiful, from another time space is a cheapo (emphasis on “o”) jewelry store and about as down-market as you can get. The place sells giant hoop earrings, gold bracelets and who knows what. Really, even calling this jewelry is stretching the definition. Stepping inside, I felt like Jimmy Stewart in “It’s a Wonderful Life” when he gets transported into the future and sees his cute little town transformed into the sleazy Pottersville.

The original wood molding is all covered over by sheet rock and the gas lights are turned off but still there but dominated by bright track lighting. I was going to take a photo but it would make you cry. Instead, I could only manage this exterior shot. The original wooden revolving door is there with a giant crack in one of the panels.

If this isn’t an argument for why the city needs to landmark and protect its treasures, I don’t know what is. Thank God, New York does have a good landmarks law; I just wish it could have saved Gage & Tollner’s. Alas.

  1. Alas, the South Street Seaport is next unless the City Council comes to its senses.

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