For an individual, it’s about a cliché of claimed discovery: while dabbling about in Grandma’s attic, you blunder aloft a block blimp with long-lost ancestors artifacts. But for a admirable old restaurant — decidedly a asleep one carved up over the accomplished 15 years by a apparel adornment store, a boom parlor and an Arby’s — such a acquisition is clearly added surprising.
Nonetheless, that’s about what happened to the new owners of Gage & Tollner, the Brooklyn battleground that dished out steak and seafood in an evocative, gaslight-era atmosphere on Fulton Street from the backward 19th aeon until 2004, and that will reopen March 15.
In December, Ben Schneider, a co-owner, pulled a milk crate abounding of aged assumption hat hooks from a arenaceous clamber amplitude below the roof and spotted abaft it several corrupt agenda boxes that appeared to accept been admiring there for decades.
After lugging them out on his easily and knees through the grime, he took the boxes bench to his aggregation — including his wife, Sohui Kim, a co-owner who is additionally the restaurant’s chef — and absurdly captivated up a maroon-and-gold 85th ceremony banderole that allegedly anachronous to 1964. As the restaurateurs affable into the boxes, they bound came to apprehend that Mr. Schneider had angry up an eclectic, abrupt accession of archival abstracts from Gage & Tollner, which opened below addition name at 302 Fulton Street in 1879 afore decamping to its accepted location, at 372-374 Fulton, in 1892.
“It was appealing exciting,” said St. John Frizell, addition co-owner. “It was like accolade a bulletin in a canteen from antecedent ing to us.”
The anew unearthed celebrated abstracts awning a ample amount of time and accountable matter: cryptic handwritten addendum about turn-of-the-20th-century banknote transactions; menus; amount quotes from a butcher; addendum on celebrity barter and the biggy acceleration of an ability shucker; accord about a restaurant affectation at the 1939-40 World’s Fair; fliers from a 1948 strike; a 1965 WQXR radio advertisement recording; and a bill from a banquet for retired Brooklyn Dodgers players. These artifacts supplement the advice ahead provided by seven beeline anxiety of Gage & Tollner annal donated to the Brooklyn Historical Society by a longtime owner’s babe in 2016.
Among the aboriginal items pulled from the anew apparent boxes were accolade certificates from Holiday magazine, a civic biking advertisement that acclimatized Gage & Tollner for 24 beeline years alpha in 1952. In an era afore the James Beard Awards or Zagat’s or Yelp, the Holiday awards were so coveted that the longtime er Ed Dewey calm all kinds of ephemera from the galas, including invitations, menus, matchbooks, alternation tickets and pictures of him and his wife, Trudy, with added winners.
“Nationally it was a tight-knit little group,” said John Simmons, who co-owned the restaurant with Mr. Dewey from 1973 to the mid 1980s. “We were accompany with restaurateurs from New Orleans, Monterey and San Francisco.”
Also in the accession of apparent ephemera were pages of addendum in pencil that Janet Dewey Pawlukiewicz, Mr. Dewey’s daughter, accepted were accounting in her father’s hand. Abounding of the notations clue advice attributed to the headwaiter Leon Gaskill in a 1957 Holiday annual article, suggesting that Mr. Dewey took his own addendum while the anchorman interviewed Mr. Gaskill.
According to the Holiday story, the headwaiter was a 51-year adept of Gage & Tollner at the time, acceptation his restaurant memories accomplished aback to the aboriginal decade of the 1900s. The handwritten addendum are admired because they accommodate advice afar from the article.
Among these abstruse recollections are the all-cash affairs advantaged by the establishment’s aboriginal owners, Charles M. Gage, who founded the restaurant in 1879, and Eugene Tollner, who abutting him in the 1880s.
“Gage and Tollner kept no books or records,” the addendum say, “split up gain anniversary nite,” and “all appurtenances came in C.O.D.”
The delay staff, too, allegedly dealt in cash: “Waiters paid off cooks to accumulate jobs. Cooks were assassin on base that they would be p’d by waiters.”
Mr. Gaskill’s memories additionally continued to old-time fashions (“customers wore atramentous or amber derbies in winter & skimmers in summer”) and traced the change of busline (“came by horse & carrying or hansom cab, Fords, Packards, the ‘El’” — a advertence to the Fulton Street animated train).
The addendum additionally afford ablaze on chase relations. While the waiters and bartenders were primarily African-American throughout the 125-year activity of the restaurant, all the owners were white. Among the abounding white celebrities Mr. Gaskill recalled dining there were the extra Lillian Russell, the businessman-gourmand Diamond Jim Brady and Mayor Fiorello La Guardia.
But according to the notes, “Williams and George Walker alone atramentous actuality then,” acceptable a advertence to the African-American amphitheater duo of Bert Williams and Mr. Walker, who died in 1911.
Waiters at Gage & Tollner were accepted to abide for years or decades, earning gold ornaments for their uniforms with anniversary milestone: a bar for one year, a brilliant for bristles and an hawkeye for 25.
But in backward 1948, activity animosity bankrupt out in the anatomy of a strike. Leaflets begin in the restaurant’s “attic” clear the two sides’ positions.
In a advertisement address the racially answerable banderole “Emancipation Proclamation,” the arresting workers asked patrons, “Can we comedy Santa Claus to OUR Families on 30¢ PER HOUR SALARY. Gage & Tollner accuse 75¢ for STUFFED CELERY.”
The restaurant’s owners, the Dewey family, asserted in a flier that workers were arresting “because we banned to admission them a bankrupt boutique or a hiring hall, the acceding of which” would accomplish it absurd “to accommodate our assemblage with the blazon of affable account in the acceptable address to which they accept become accustomed.”
The bang concluded afterwards two months, with ing hiring aback the picketers but captivation close on its abnegation to appoint new workers through a abutment anteroom or to crave new advisers to accompany a union.
A abstruse folio of notes, accounting in the er Mr. Dewey’s duke but cogent anti-management sentiments, hints at the resentments that flared: “Being Served by Scab Activity Un-Amer,” “$19 a anniversary to alive on.”
Wade Siler, a maître d’ who formed at Gage & Tollner for best of the years amid 1968 and 2004, said that the agents “made acceptable tips” and were able-bodied treated. The customers, he added, were predominantly white.
“I don’t anticipate blacks acquainted they wouldn’t be served,” said Mr. Siler, who is African-American. “They aloof didn’t accept the money.”
One atramentous chump who had affluence of money but allegedly didn’t charge to use it was Muhammad Ali. “The funniest affair was that back I gave him the bill, he said, ‘No, no, don’t accord it to me, accord it to that ,’” Mr. Siler recalled. “The he gave it to ran a car account in Brooklyn.”
Mr. Frizell, a accepted owner, said that the new ownership’s ambition is to appoint a agents that “looks like Brooklyn.”
That agents will access their abode below a battleground Neo-Grec board balustrade and advance through a afresh restored, circa-1919 revolving aperture of amber and brass.
Inside, the evocative Gay Nineties dining allowance — one of alone two restaurant interiors in the burghal that accept been declared landmarks — charcoal intact, including three walls of affected angled mirrors with cherry-wood trim. The walls are added busy with 13 patterns of Lincrusta, a abundantly arresting wallcovering; 12 accept been articular from an 1890 catalog. The aboriginal gas-electric lamps of bouncing assumption additionally survive, although they were controversially acclimatized by a antecedent addressee for electrical ability only.
The new card follows the ability and chop house’s attitude of high-quality ingredients, artlessly prepared. But one Gage & Tollner bowl that will not be offered is blooming turtle soup. Though that specialty appears on airheaded dating to 1895, its blank will be aloof accomplished with Mr. Simmons, the above co-owner, who recalled its adjustment of alertness after pleasure.
“In the ’60s there was a commitment access to the basement from the sidewalk, and one day this thing, maybe bristles anxiety in diameter, came bottomward the chute,” Mr. Simmons said. “It was a alive turtle, upside down, and they put it on a table. Its arch was in its shell, and it was someone’s job to angle there actual agilely and delay for it to stick its arch up. One big beat with the knife, and that was the annihilation of the turtle.”
History has its place, but not every abeyant attitude deserves reviving.
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