Brooklyn Heights Press reports that chain restaurant T.G.I. Friday's has vacated the space, near the western end of Fulton Mall, formerly occupied by Gage & Tollner, which, until it closed in 2004, had for many years been Brooklyn's longest surviving restaurant.
I first discovered Gage & Tollner when a friend took me there in 1973, ten years before I moved to Brooklyn. When we walked in, I had the sense of having been transported back about eighty years. All was dark carved wood, etched glass and leather upholstery, illuminated by gaslight. Waiters, none of them under forty, wore navy blue jackets with gold braid, white shirts and black ties. The menu stressed seafood, especially shellfish in casserole preparations. My favorite among these was "crabmeat Dewey" (no doubt named in honor of the Admiral's 1898 victory over the Spanish fleet at Manila Bay), a concoction involving lump backfin blue crab, heavy cream, cheddar cheese and (if I recall correctly) celery. Whenever I ordered it, I could feel my arteries contracting in anticipation.
G&T was sold sometime in the 1980s to a young, hip owner who hired a very talented African-American woman as chef, and offered a new menu featuring things like Cajun blackened redfish and Charleston she-crab soup. However, no doubt out of deference to long-time regulars, he also kept the old menu on hand. I liked the new stuff, but I once had to test the commitment to the old by ordering crabmeat Dewey. I expected the (young and no longer uniformed) waiter to say, "I'm sorry, we're out of that tonight"; instead, I got the dish just as it always had been.
The place changed owners again sometime in the 1990s, and the old menu disappeared. Then it closed, and stood vacant for a time, as I thought, "Sic transit gloria mundis." When I read that it was being taken by Friday's, I took some satisfaction that the chain, which had as its trade dress a faux 1890s decor, was finally occupying a space that was the real McCoy.
The interior is landmarked, so, fortunately, it can only be used as a restaurant. I hope there's a new owner out there who can realize the site's potential while giving respect to its past. Crabmeat Dewey, anyone?
photo: Forgotten New York