The city signed off on a plan that will allow the fast-food chain Arby’s to open inside the landmarked former Gage and Tollner storefront on the Fulton Mall.
The Landmarks Preservation Commission voted to support the proposal 7-1 only after restaurateur Raymond Chera made multiple changes to his original plans to turn the renowned 1892 interior into a roast beef sandwich joint — and promised to continue working with the agency to tweak his designs for large menu sign in the rear of the restaurant.
“[This proposal] has come a long way,” said Commissioner Roberta Washington. “The sign is the one thing that prevents this proposal from being fantastic.”
Last month, the agency put Chera on the hotplate for his plans to install light-colored flooring, remove a section of an arched mirrored wall in the rear of the restaurant, construct booths against the historic red cherry wood paneled walls, build a counter in the rear of the restaurant for taking orders, and mount a large internally illuminated menu sign.
So Chera returned to the commission with a plan that would restore wood floor panels in a darker color, preserve the mirrored wall, install shorter freestanding booths that are equipped with bumpers to protect the historic wood paneling, design a counter that replicates an existing marble-topped display case, and mount a wood-framed menu sign illuminated by gooseneck lamps that evoke the eatery’s famed gas lamps.
For the most part, the agency ate up Chera’s modifications. But the menu sign — which under current plans would be hung directly in front of a large mirrored wall — left some commissioners with a bad taste in their mouths.
“Why can’t regular menus suffice instead of obscuring the mirror and landmark interior?” asked Commissioner Roberta Brandes Gratz.
Project architects insisted that some kind of large menu board is necessary because Arby’s diners are accustomed to ordering from wall-mounted menu boards.
Despite their trepidations about the sign, the commission granted Chera with a certificate of appropriateness — as long as he works with Landmarks staffers to investigate alternative designs for the menu sign that won’t obstruct as much of the mirror.
After the vote, Chera — who plans to open the eatery by the end of the summer — was ecstatic.
“We’re thrilled with the Landmarks decision,” he said. “We’ve put a lot of hard work into making sure we properly preserve the historic interior.”
This approval was the last hurdle for the restaurateur, whose plans were previously grilled by Community Board 2 before receiving the 8-1 endorsement of the group’s Land Use Committee.
Since the acclaimed seafood and chop shop Gage and Tollner closed in 2004, the space — which boasts arched mirrors, chandeliers, and 36 famous gas lamps — hasn’t sat well with new restaurants.
A T.G.I. Friday’s lasted three years before closing, and a much-ballyhooed plan to bring the soul food eatery Amy Ruth’s turned sour.