It’s Gage on! Restaurateurs forge ahead with revival of Gage and Tollner after inking lease for historic space

It’s Gage on! Restaurateurs forge ahead with revival of Gage and Tollner after inking lease for historic space
Photo by Julianne Cuba

The three restaurateurs who last year announced plans to revive Downtown’s venerable chop house Gage and Tollner plan to open their second-coming of the bistro this fall, after recently inking a lease on the historic dining room.

The trio previously launched a fund-raising drive to collect cash needed to rent the space. And locking in enough money to seal the deal on their plan was a surreal feeling, according to one of the entrepreneurs.

“Oh my god, I’m so excited. It’s literally the chance of a lifetime, a dream come true,” said St. John Frizell, the owner of Red Hook restaurant Fort Defiance, whose first name is pronounced “sin-jun.” “I’ve been thinking about and working on this actively for 18 months, but I never thought I would have the opportunity to work on a project of this magnitude. I’m just overjoyed.”

The iconic Brooklyn eatery known for its gas lighting and signature dishes such as turtle soup opened in 1879, and closed in 2004, more than a century after it moved to Fulton Street between Pearl and Jay streets in 1892.

Following the restaurant’s closure, the space — whose cherry-wood and-mahogany interior with mirrored walls and chandeliers is a city landmark — became a TGI Fridays, an outpost of fast-food joint Arby’s, and most recently, a costume jewelry store until 2016.

But now, Frizell and his husband-and-wife partners Ben Schenider — the owner of Red Hook eatery Good Fork, who said the trio may name their revival something other than Gage and Tollner — and Sohui Kim, who will run the new restaurant’s kitchen, are hard at work breathing new life to the space, using the $400,000 they raised and another hefty check they received from investors.

And any deep-pocketed supporters who have yet to pitch in still can, according to Frizell, who said the trio will collect cash through Feb. 28 or until they rake in $500,000.

“That was our minimum goal, $400,000,” he said. “Reaching our minimum allowed us to sign a lease.”

The restaurateurs plan to serve up many of the iconic bistro’s classic land and sea dishes — the latter being especially remembered by onetime patrons, according to Frizell.

“Although it always had chops and steaks on the menu, many people remember Gage and Tollner being a seafood restaurant,” he said. “The things we hear that people want back are specialties like she-crab soup, broiled clam bellies.”

Before they can reopen the fabled dining room’s doors, however, the local community board must review their plans, which also must be singed off on by the Landmarks Preservation Commission due to the interiors’ protected status.

But Frizell assured that he and his partners don’t plan to change much, because they want to ensure their version of the eatery retains the original’s singular spirit, which kept customers coming back for generations.

“We’re not really trying to do something brand new, just build on what’s already there,” he said. “Restaurants play an important part in people’s lives, it’s a place that’s not your home, and not your work, but where you gather with friends and family. People want to continue to share the experience of eating there with the generations of their family that are around now, and they will be able to do that again.”

Reach reporter Julianne Cuba at (718) 260–4577 or by e-mail at jcuba@schnepsmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @julcuba.
A look back: The original restaurant interior.
Brooklyn Historical Society