Charles Gage & Eugene Tollner’s venerable Brooklyn restaurant at 372-374 Fulton Street just west of Smith Street had been in business since 1879 and had occupied its Fulton Street brownstone building since 1892. Signs in the window proclaimed it as “New York’s Oldest Restaurant” but that title is disputed; my Bible in these matters, Ellen Williams and Steve Radlauer’s The Historic Shops and Restaurants of New York, claims that the Bridge Cafe, on Dover and Water Streets in Manhattan’s Seaport area, has been a restaurant of some kind since 1794, but perhaps Gage & Tollner meant “oldest restaurant under its original name.” In any case, the Bridge Cafe has been closed since it was ravaged by Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
A look inside G&T, even through the display window on Fulton Street, provided a glimpse back in time, as moulded cherrywood, beveled glass windows and gaslamps converted to electricity gave it a distinct Victorian patina. Some of the waiters had been in service for decades.
Real estate records show that the brownstone building occupied by Gage & Tollner dates to 1875. Many such old buildings survive along this stretch of Fulton Street, but most of the top floors are abandoned and in any case have not been kept in the condition this one has been.
Gage & Tollner was known as a seafood restaurant with clams and oysters a specialty. The restaurant seemed to be a bit pricey, especially for the Fulton Mall area. Over time Gage & Tollner found it harder to attract customers, despite hiring a string of acclaimed chefs. This gradual attrition made it too difficult for its owner to keep Gage & Tollner open.
For a time the roast beef fast food chain Arby’s occupied the space (their lengthwise sign is still in place), and since 2012, a discount jewelry and clothing store. All the while, store displays covered up the mirrors and woodwork, but the gaslamps hanging from the ceiling were still in public view.
In 2016, word went around that the building’s new owner would like to turn the space back into a restaurant. We’ll see what happens.