Dining under Gas Lamps at Gage & Tollner’s

This post was authored by BHS Library and Archives processing intern Yingwen Huang. Ying processed the Edward and Gertrude Dewey collection of Gage & Tollner records, which are now open and available to the public in our library. For more information,  please see the collection’s finding aid.

Walking down Fulton Street shopping district in the Downtown Brooklyn neighborhood, you can’t help but notice the striking building featuring two white Doric columns under a portico. This landmarked building was once Brooklyn’s iconic Gage & Tollner restaurant. Closed in 2004, the restaurant was known for preserving 19th-century food and dining traditions well into the modern era.

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Edward Dewey (center) and staff posing in front of Gage & Tollner restaurant at the 80th Anniversary, 1969; Edward and Gertrude Dewey collection of Gage & Tollner records, 2016.034, Box 6; Brooklyn Historical Society.

The Edward and Gertrude Dewey collection of Gage & Tollner records contain papers, photographs, audio recordings, and memorabilia of the Gage & Tollner restaurant, dating from 1888 to 2004. The collection’s paper records, including ephemera, ledgers, journal books, and correspondence, document the restaurant’s business and operations. The photographs in this collection depict the restaurant’s landmark building, events at the restaurant, as well as its owners and employees over the years.

In 1879, Charles M. Gage opened an eating house at 303 Fulton Street. Eugene Tollner joined the restaurant in 1882 and the business was christened Gage & Tollner’s. In 1892, the restaurant moved into a new building, 372-374 Fulton Street, where it became famous for serving a variety of seafood and meat dishes. Over the years, the Gage & Tollner restaurant was loved by local Brooklynites and even attracted celebrities for its fine food and drinks topped with an elegant dining experience. The restaurant was later sold to A.H. Cunningham and Alexander Ingalls in 1911 and then to the Dewey family in 1919.

 

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Seafood and chops at Gage & Tollner’s, 1977; Edward and Gertrude Dewey collection of Gage & Tollner records, 2016.034, Box 6; Brooklyn Historical Society.

The Gage & Tollner restaurant was dedicated to serving fresh seafood and served a wide variety of dishes featuring clams, fishes, scallops, lobsters, and crabs. Oysters are perhaps the most beloved dish in the city’s history, and this is reflected in Gage & Tollner’s menu. For instance, there were more than fifty oyster preparations to select from in 1919. Other favorite dishes at the restaurant included seafood cocktail, lobster cream stew, and the signature broiled soft clam “bellies”, a dish invented and named by Seth Bradford Dewey.

Take a look at 1919 menu:

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Menu Cover, Page one and two featuring seafood specialties, 1919; Edward and Gertrude Dewey collection of Gage & Tollner records, 2016.034, Box 2; Brooklyn Historical Society

In November 1954, Gage & Tollner’s celebrated its 75th anniversary. Even though the restaurant building was converted to electric lighting in the 1890s, it continued its tradition of turning on the gas lights for five days during its anniversary so customers could enjoy a particularly romantic dining experience at the restaurant. On the day of the anniversary celebration, Edward and Thomas Dewey would dress up as Mr. Gage and Mr. Tollner.

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Left to Right: Edward Dewey as Mr. Gage, unidentified lady as Lillian Russell, and Thomas Dewey as Mr. Tollner at the 75th Anniversary Celebration, 1954; Edward and Gertrude Dewey collection of Gage & Tollner records, 2016.034, Box 6; Brooklyn Historical Society.

The Dewey family took pride in carrying on the restaurant’s traditions, and its menu remained largely unchanged over the decades. When restaurateur Peter Aschkenasy took over the space in 1989, he continued the restaurant’s rich traditions, but upgraded the menu by bringing in famed southern chef Edna Lewis, whose Charleston she-crab soup was the star of the new menu.

However, later owners found it difficult to maintain that tradition and remain profitable due to both changes in tastes and the economic climate in the Fulton Mall district. By the 1980s, the area had changed significantly since the restaurant’s early days. This was the result of numerous factors, such as the deindustrialization the borough, changing demographics, the closing of high-end department stores (especially Abraham & Straus), and the closing of traffic on Fulton Street. As a result, the area began attracting discount shoppers rather than upscale gourmands that made up the restaurant’s clientele. The last owner of Gage & Tollner’s, Joe Chirico, commented that some restaurants simply go “out of style” and the eatery was subsequently closed in 2004. The building was purchased by the Jemal family in 2004 for $2.8 million, who hoped to rent it to an upscale restaurateur. Despite those intentions, the building was housed by a TGI Fridays through 2007 and then an Arby’s in 2010. No restaurant has operated in the building since.

Sources:

“Famed Downtown Eating Place Marking Its 75th Anniversary.” The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, NY), Nov. 14, 1954. https://bklyn.newspapers.com/image/53988155/

“Neighborhood Report: Downtown Brooklyn; A Last Supper: Why Couldn’t Gage & Tollner Turn a Profit?” New York Times, June 4, 1995. http://www.nytimes.com/1995/06/04/nyregion/neighborhood-report-downtown-brooklyn-last-supper-why-couldn-t-gage-tollner-turn.html

“The Last Supper – Gage & Tollner Closing in B’klyn.” New York Post, February 12, 2004. http://nypost.com/2004/02/12/the-last-supper-gage-tollner-closing-in-bklyn/

“Brooklyn’s Forgotten Gage & Tollner Restaurant.” Atlas Obscura. http://www.atlasobscura.com/places/brooklyn-s-forgotten-gage-tollner-restaurant

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Photo of the Week: Shifting Perspectives

In the Surf, Manhattan Beach, U. S. A., 1889, v1972.1.1019; Early Brooklyn and Long Island photograph collection, ARC.201; Brooklyn Historical Society.

In the Surf, Manhattan Beach, U. S. A., 1889, v1972.1.1019; Early Brooklyn and Long Island photograph collection, ARC.201; Brooklyn Historical Society.

The photo of the week is a stereograph depicting men and women wading in the surf at Manhattan Beach. Stereographs are two nearly identical photographs that have been mounted on cardboard. When viewed through a stereoscope, a 3-D image appears. You can view this photograph, along with 7 additional stereographs from our collection at BHS Dumbo’s inaugural exhibition, Shifting Perspectives, featuring views of the Brooklyn shoreline through the lens of two dozen photographers. We hope to see you there!

This photograph comes from the Early Brooklyn and Long Island photograph collection comprised of roughly 1,400 black and white photographs taken from various photographs from 1860 to 1920. Some highlights include many views of Coney Island and Prospect Park. To view more photographs from this collection, check out this gallery.

Interested in seeing more photos from BHS’s collection? Visit our online image gallery, which includes a selection of our images. Interested in seeing even more historic Brooklyn images? Visit our Brooklyn Visual Heritage website here. To search BHS’s entire collection of images, archives, maps, and special collections visit BHS’s Othmer Library Wed-Sat, 1:00-5:00 p.m. library@brooklynhistory.org

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Flatbush + Main Episode 14: Malcolm X in Brooklyn

In Episode 14 of Brooklyn Historical Society’s podcast Flatbush + Main, co-hosts Zaheer Ali and Julie Golia reflect on Malcolm X’s enduring influence on the borough of Brooklyn.

Index

03:02 – Histories and Ideas
15:54 – Into the Archives
34:08 – Voices of Brooklyn

For complete show notes, go to www.brooklynhistory.org/flatbush-main

We hope you’re enjoying our podcast! If so, please subscribe, rate, and review us at brooklynhistory.org/fm-itunes. And please share the news of Flatbush + Main far and wide using the hashtag #FlatbushandMain.

Segment 1: Histories and Ideas

Most people associate Malcolm X with Harlem, but his legacy extends to this borough as well. Zaheer takes Julie and Flatbush + Main’s listeners on an on-the-ground tour of Malcolm’s Brooklyn. To read more about Malcolm X’s history and legacy in Brooklyn, check out Zaheer’s article, “Malcolm X in Brooklyn,” in the African American Intellectual Historical Society’s Black Perspectives.

Segment 2: Into the Archives

Regular listeners may recognize the collection we examined: the Arnie Goldwag Brooklyn Congress of Racial Equality Papers (ARC.002). We have featured it in past episodes. You can peruse the finding aid here.

Here are images of the documents we looked at during this episode:

Muhammad Speaks clipping, October 11, 1963; Arnie Goldwag Brooklyn Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) collection, ARC.002, box 5, folder 6; Brooklyn Historical Society.


Muhammad Speaks clipping, October 11, 1963; Arnie Goldwag Brooklyn Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) collection, ARC.002, box 5, folder 6; Brooklyn Historical Society.

Letter to the Editor re: Malcolm X, March 24, 1965; Arnie Goldwag Brooklyn Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) collection, ARC.002, box 1, folder 1; Brooklyn Historical Society.


Letter to the Editor re: Malcolm X, March 24, 1965; Arnie Goldwag Brooklyn Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) collection, ARC.002, box 1, folder 1; Brooklyn Historical Society.

Segment 3: Voices of Brooklyn

The first narrator we listened to is Brooklyn-based community activist Richard Green, who is CEO of the Crown Heights Youth Collective, which he founded in 1977. Green was born in Honduras, and moved to the Brooklyn neighborhood of Crown Heights in 1958. His oral history, recorded in 2016, is still being processed as part of BHS’s Voices of Crown Heights project and will be made available in full once complete. Special thanks to Green for allowing us to use the excerpt in this episode.

The second narrator we listened to is Dr. Josephine English. You can learn more about her and listen to her complete interview on BHS’s online oral history portal.

Segment 4: Endorsements

Julie invited our listeners to visit BHS DUMBO, our new museum and gift shop located in DUMBO, and endorsed Hugh Ryan’s upcoming talk on “The Queer Histories of Brooklyn’s Working Waterfront” at BHS Pierrepont, Thursday, June 8, at 6:30pm. Tickets are $5 (free for members), and can be purchased here.

Zaheer endorsed “Stories of Neighborhood Change,” a listening session and discussion of oral histories collected as part of the Voices of Crown Heights project. The event is Monday, June 12, at 6:30pm, at BHS Pierrepont, and is free. RSVP is encouraged.

Zaheer also announced the launch of BHS’s new online oral history portal, featuring nearly 250 interviews from our oral history collections, including many we have featured on Flatbush + Main!

Last but not least, we talked about BHS’s Teen Council, who created an exhibition featuring five women of Brooklyn’s past and present who have been active catalysts for education and empowerment, and invited the public out to the exhibition opening on May 31, 2017, from 5:30 – 7:30, at BHS Pierrepont.

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Photo of the Week: BHS Dumbo

[Dockworkers, DUMBO, Brooklyn], 1924, v1973.5.917; Brooklyn photograph and illustration collection, ARC.202; Brooklyn Historical Society.

[Dockworkers, Brooklyn], 1924, v1973.5.917; Brooklyn photograph and illustration collection, ARC.202; Brooklyn Historical Society.

The photo of the week depicts dockworkers on Furman Street in Brooklyn, hoisting and moving goods into a waterfront warehouse—once a ubiquitous sight in the early twentieth-century, when Brooklyn boasted one of the largest commercial waterfronts in the world. Today, only a few of those waterfront warehouses remain. Empire Stores, located on Water Street in DUMBO, is one of them. It’s also the home of BHS’s new satellite museum.

On Friday, May 19, 2017, Brooklyn Historical Society opens Brooklyn Historical Society DUMBO, a new museum and gift shop, located in the historic Empire Stores. The inaugural exhibition, Shifting Perspectives: Photographs of Brooklyn’s Waterfront, will feature photographs of Brooklyn’s coastline and waterfront through the lens of two dozen photographers. We hope you will visit us at both of our Brooklyn locations!

This photograph comes from the Brooklyn photograph and illustration collection comprised of roughly 7000 items dating from 1900 to 1950. The collection provides a comprehensive documentation of the borough of Brooklyn with images of neighborhoods, homes, buildings, and infrastructure. To see more photographs from this collection, check out this gallery.

Interested in seeing more photos from BHS’s collection? Visit our online image gallery, which includes a selection of our images. Interested in seeing even more historic Brooklyn images? Visit our Brooklyn Visual Heritage website here. To search BHS’s entire collection of images, archives, maps, and special collections visit BHS’s Othmer Library Wed-Sat, 1:00-5:00 p.m. library@brooklynhistory.org

 

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Photo of the Week: Happy Mother’s Day

Waiting on Myrtle Ave. for Car- Mothers' Outing, 1911, V1981.284.27; Emmanuel House lantern slide collection, ARC.136; Brooklyn Historical Society.

Waiting on Myrtle Ave. for Car- Mothers’ Outing, 1911, V1981.284.27; Emmanuel House lantern slide collection, ARC.136; Brooklyn Historical Society.

In honor of Mother’s Day this Sunday, we bring you a mother-themed photo of the week. The photograph depicts women and children waiting for the Gates Avenue train car on Myrtle Avenue during a “Mothers’ Outing.” The closer you look, the more charming the photograph gets—small moments between mother and child and adorable outfits. If only we knew what this outing entailed!

This photograph comes from the Emmanuel House lantern slide collection comprised of 87 photographic slides from 1900 to 1914. The slides contain images of children, mostly group portraits, at the Emmanuel House, a civic center and place of outreach by the Young Men’s League of the Emmanuel Baptist Church. The house was located at 131 Steuben Street in the Clinton Hill neighborhood of Brooklyn and offered Sunday school, kindergarten and recreational classes to children of the church and neighborhood. To view more photographs from this collection, check out this gallery.

Interested in seeing more photos from BHS’s collection? Visit our online image gallery, which includes a selection of our images. Interested in seeing even more historic Brooklyn images? Visit our Brooklyn Visual Heritage website here. To search BHS’s entire collection of images, archives, maps, and special collections visit BHS’s Othmer Library Wed-Sat, 1:00-5:00 p.m. library@brooklynhistory.org

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