Gage & Tollner Restaurant, Brooklyn, New York

No restaurant in New York City does as good a job at making special occasions special as Gage & Tollner. 

Which is part of its legacy. One of the oldest oyster and chops joints in the United States, the original iteration of the restaurant was opened in 1879 and was patronized over the years by such bon vivants as Mae West, Jimmy Durante, and "Diamond" Jim Brady. According to an oysterman interviewed by the Brooklyn Eagle, Gage & Tollner went through roughly 50,000 oysters a month in its heyday, discarding "thousands of pearls." But in 2004, after 175 years in business, the original restaurant went bankrupt and shuttered.

Luckily, its magnificent Gilded Age interior, with its ornate cherry framed mirrors, expansive bar, and brass fixtures, was landmarked in 1975 (it was one of New York's first interiors to get that designation). So when a young group of restauranteurs decided to revive the place in 2018, they could do so with a dollop of authenticity. The new Gage & Tollner opened in 2021, and beyond the décor, chef/co-owner Sohui Kim has taken culinary inspiration from the original, filling the menu with scintillating takes on such classic dishes as Parker House Rolls, She-Crab Soup, Devil's-On-Horseback (dates and smoked almonds wrapped in bacon), Port Pot Pie, Baked Alaska and Brooklyn Cheesecake (one of the best I've ever eaten). As you'd expect, there's an ever-changing array of East Coast oysters and Oysters Rockefeller. In keeping with its celebratory atmosphere, the restaurant will bake your party a cake with 72 hours notice, which is an unusual offering in NYC. The classic cocktails served here—Rob Roys, Pink Ladies, Brandy Sours, Side Cars, and the like—are primo. The only disappointment is a pricey one: The steaks we tried were chewy rather than buttery, and a bit bland (I'm guessing the restaurant needs more time to age its meats properly).

Sunken Harbor Club, Brooklyn, New York

I highly recommend starting or ending your evening at the Sunken Harbor Club, the tiki-style bar/lounge upstairs from the dining room. It's a hoot-and-a-half, with a five-page-long cocktail menu of tipples that come in all sorts of amusingly weird cups. The whimsical setting, a faux sunken ship with mermaids murals, taxidermic blowfish, and lots of pirate memorabilia, is absolutely delightful (as are the staff here, and on the main floor).

Payphone at Gage & Tollner, Brooklyn, New York

You'll need a separate reservation for the Sunken Harbor Club (or can get on the wait list when you arrive), but that leads me to the pain point of dining here. Ever since the New York Times named it one of the 10 best new restaurants in the city, it's been near impossible to get a booking. We've found that calling at least a month in advance works better than the reservations app Resy. But hey: When you get in, it feels like you have even more reason to celebrate.