Arby's will open Thursday in historic Gage & Tollner space in Brooklyn
The Arby's on Fulton Street in Brooklyn retains the historic character of Gage & Tollner, including 36 gaslights. (Photos: Ilana Panich-Linsman)
The beef is back at the place that once housed legendary steak house Gage & Tollner.
The white-linen restaurant where Mae West and Diamond Jim Brady once dined will now serve decidedly less fancy fare when Arby’s on Thursday opens its first Brooklyn location in the landmark space on Fulton Street.
Gage & Tollner served its famous steaks and oysters under its equally renown gaslights (36 of them) from 1879 until its closing on Valentine’s Day, 2004. Fast times—and food was the death knell for the old-time chop house.
The building, whose interior is a city landmark, has been vacant since 2007 when T.G.I. Friday moved out. Raymond Chera, the Arby’s franchisee, has been working since last summer on a plan to satisfy the city Landmarks Preservation Commission and neighborhood officials.
After initial plans were rejected by the commission, Chera modified them to include more historic details such as a wood-paneled counter and other period finishings in keeping with the Victorian flavor.
The menu board, which obscured the original mirrored wall, was the last sticking point. The solution? A bentwood-framed board with gooseneck lamps that echo the existing gas lighting.
“It’s the most gorgeous space I’ve seen in my life,” said Chera, 26, who along with his brother, Ralph, plans to open 41 Arby’s in New York over the next 10 years. The Fulton Street store will be the flagship.
In addition to its unusual décor, the new Arby’s will include a new section of grab and go fresh sandwiches, salads and boxed lunches. Customers wanting to linger awhile will have free WiFi service.
To those who would scoff at the idea of a fast-food joint where high society once dined, Chera says, “ It’s a mall street. There’s not many types of restaurants that would succeed here.”
Bob Furman, president of the Brooklyn Preservation Council, would have liked to see the past restored in another way.
“Obviously it would have been better to have a restaurant more in character to what Gage & Tollner was, but I think we kind of have to take what we can get here,” he said, but added, “If [the building] is vacant, it’s an invitation to lose it.”