20 January 2010

Sneak Peek at Inside of Gage & Tollner Arby's

The franchisee of the new Brooklyn Arby's fast food restaurant, which is set to open in the old, landmarked Gage & Tollner space on Fulton Mall tomorrow (Jan. 21), was kind enough to invite Lost City to take a sneak peek at the restored interior one day early.

It's hard to cast my mind back to the last day Gage & Tollner was open, which was also the last day I saw the inside (I never stepped foot inside the TFI Friday's that took possession of the building for a couple years after), but as far as I can see, much of it has been restored to what it once was, including the arched mirrors, the coat hooks, the gaslight fixtures (right), the sculpted wall treatments and the frosted glass partitions with maritime insignia (below) between the booths—all original and all brought back to life.

Also restored is the original wood and marble bar near the front of the restaurant (below), which has been repurposed with a feature unique to this Arby's—a "Fresh Market to Go" takeaway section. "Many things in this building are completely custom for Arby's," said franchisee Raymond Chera, "which they have never done before."

Chera said a wooden and marble counter, which I remember being used as a bus station (left), and which hadn't been discussed with the Landmarks Commission, was in such bad condition, with the wood rotted through, that it took a great deal of work to revamp. (The Arby's team had little good to say about the state in which TGI Friday's had left the place.)

The counter where people place their orders at the back of the eatery is not original, but was custom made to mesh nicely with the decor. Also new are the old-fashioned-style lights that illuminate the menu. Most Arby's menus are back-lit.

Chera would not say how much the restoration cost, only that he spent "a lot of money." Asked why he chose to open an Arby's in the historic space when he knew the job would make a big hassle, he said the trouble was "Well worth it. It is the most incredible, beautiful location I've ever seen for a restaurant. There was such an opportunity to come her for a number of reasons." He added that the work required to reach opening day was about what he had expected going in. "We were well aware when we came into this the public opinoin of this and the scrutiny" they'd be under.

Chera has fairly deep mercantile roots in New York. His family ran the old Wertheimer's Department Stores in New York, a chain which once had a presence on Fulton Mall. Knowing that the Cheras have a feel for the history of the city and the street made me feel a little better about Gage & Tollner's new keepers.  A damn sight better than someone who arrived in town yesterday and couldn't give a hoot for our historic heritage. I still wish Gage & Tollner's had never closed. But I have to say a part of me is glad that the beautiful interior can now be enjoyed on a daily basis by New Yorkers.

One suggestion for Chera: a wall display explaining the history of the building and Gage & Tollner would be a nice touch. Folks should know they're surrounded by history as they eat their lunch.


MartinD28 said...

That's a heck of a fast-food setting. For some reason, the pics made me think of the McDonald's in the piazza near the Pantheon in Rome.

Ron Frankl said...

I guess it could be worse. They do seem to have some respect for the history of the building, as well as it's significance to New Yorkers of a certain age. But what I wouldn't give for one more bowl of Edna Lewis' she-crab soup in that beautiful old room.

Leo Tam said...

I really hope the afternoon high schoolers don't vandalize anything