Last Call at Harlem’s Lenox Lounge

lloungeHarlem’s Lenox Lounge, which opened in 1939; hosted jazz legends such as Billie Holiday, Miles Davis and John Coltrane in its heyday; and was revived by Alvin Reed in 1988 will shut down at the end of the year, marking what some are calling the end of an era.

The reason? A skyrocketing rent that Reed says he can’t afford. But Reed isn’t taking the loss lying down. When he goes, he says, so will the name and the landmark signage. “If they want to use Lenox Lounge, they will have to negotiate with me,” he told Black Enterprise about the new jazz club slated to open in the location. “I brought it back, and I want to see it stay there. I want to keep the legacy alive. I am Lenox Lounge, and I will be Lenox Lounge for quite some time. And if they want Lenox Lounge, they want me.”

After the bar was allowed to deteriorate for most of the 20th century, Alvin Reed purchased the venue, which once had Harlem Renaissance writers James Baldwin and Langston Hughes as its patrons, in 1988. Reed restored the original Art Deco interior including the long mahogany bar, checkered black-and-white floor and the world famous Zebra Room. The bar’s interior was returned to its original condition and served as the setting for numerous television shows and films including “American Gangster,” “Malcolm X,” and “Mad Men.”

“The most important thing I did for the club was to institute a jazz policy, which played a major role in bringing more customers into the club,” stated Reed. “I wanted to make a difference in Harlem, and I think my ownership of the Lenox Lounge helped me achieve that goal.”

The New York Daily News reported in March that he would not be renewing his lease because he could not afford the rent increase, which jumped from $10,000 per month to $20,000.

Despite numerous attempts to find partners, court appearances and countless negotiations, Reed said “I have to be out by [December 31th]. Anything that I leave behind will become the property of landlord or the new owner.”

Richard Notar, Managing Partner in Nobu Restaurants, will be taking over the space the bar currently sits at and plans to open a new spot named “Notar Jazz Club.” Notar has already applied with the local community board for a liquor license.

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