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Landmark Gage & Tollner Space Hosts Foodie Panel to Lure Prospective Chefs

By Amy Zimmer | May 11, 2017 3:50pm
 Images from Gage and Tollner's past.
Images from Gage and Tollner's past.
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Brooklyn Historical Society

BROOKLYN — The Fulton Street building once home to legendary steakhouse Gage & Tollner may soon get a new life as a restaurant.

William Jemal, whose family bought the Downtown Brooklyn landmark for $2.8 million in 2004, has been taking a creative route to finding a new tenant for the historic space — opening it up for a panel discussion May 24 that will discuss the future of the borough’s foodie scene.

“It’s absolutely beautiful,” Jemal said of the space, the city’s first restaurant interior to be landmarked. “You feel like you’re in a classic New York steakhouse with the wooden panels, the antique mirrors, chandeliers throughout.”

For a $20 ticket, you can get a sneak peek inside the space as well as specialty tastings from Brooklyn Brewery while listening to a panel featuring Esther Choi of Mokbar, Noah Bernamoff of Mile End, Stan Liu of The Wei, and Anna Castellani of Dekalb Market Hall. The event, organized by the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, is the first of a series of roundtables bringing together noteworthy restaurant operators in distinctive venues to discuss the industry and neighborhood as well as how to make it in the business.

Because the restaurant is a landmark, a new operator wouldn’t be able to transform the space too much, which could be a challenge since any changes would require going through the Landmarks Preservation Commission.

“It takes a restaurateur that enjoys the history, not someone whose looking for a cookie-cutter glass box,” said Jemal. “And it’s about finding someone who’s willing and capable of going through Landmarks.”

Gage & Tollner moved into the space at 372-374 Fulton Street in 1889. It remained there 115 years, attracting an intensely loyal crowd that included celebrity regulars such as Mae West and Truman Capote. When it closed in 2004, national chains came in. First, it became a TGI Fridays, followed by a short-lived stint by Arby’s in 2010. More recently, a discount store selling costume jewelry and clothing took over the space. It vacated about six months ago, Jemal said.

“We’ve had a lot of interest in the last couple of months from a lot of local restaurants and a lot of national ones,” he said, noting that the area is prime for a new eatery, as “high-rise after high-rise” now dot the area around Livingston and Fulton streets.

Big changes are indeed afoot in the area.

The massive City Point, which has brought the Alamo Drafthouse, Target and Century 21, will soon bring 37 food vendors to the the DeKalb Market Hall. Gotham Market opened this year nearby at the Ashland.

New York University’s $500 million Downtown Brooklyn expansion is set to open this summer a couple of blocks from the Gage & Tollner space, and Tishman Speyer is reportedly adding a 620,000 square foot office tower on top of the Macy’s Department store on Fulton Street, which is now the borough's priciest retail corridor, according to the Real Estate Board of New York.

“Downtown Brooklyn is absolutely thriving right now. The next year or two, 3,000 new units will open within in a quarter mile of the restaurant and more than 2 million square feet of new office space,” Jemal said. “We just think now is the right time for a restaurant group to come in. There will be lines out the door.”

Downtown Brooklyn Partnership President Regina Myer hoped the event would highlight the space’s beauty and location.

“This is one of the jewels of Fulton Street,” she said.

Hosting the event — which is expected to focus on trends like food trucks, food halls, fast casual and online delivery — was not merely a “show and tell” for the space, she added.

“The panelists are some of Brooklyn’s best,” Myer said. “We think this is going to be a meaty panel and give our guests something to chew on.”