Last Call at Lenox Lounge, Harlem’s Famed Jazz Club, Due to Rising Rents

One of the last iconic establishments that exemplified the spirit of Harlem will be closing its doors.

According to the New York Amsterdam News, The Lenox Lounge, located on Lenox Avenue between 124th & 125th street which has served as a venue for jazz legends such as Billie Holiday, Miles Davis, and John Coltrane, will serve its last drink at the end of the year, marking the end of an era in Harlem.

The lounge, which was originally opened as a speakeasy in 1939, rose to fame as a dinner club catering to white patrons. The main act was the Haba Haba Girls, a chorus line of black women.

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.

Reed, a life-long Harlem resident who started out selling 15 cent copies of the Amsterdam News when he was about 8, said he’s disappointed to see so many area businesses closing up.

“We almost have to partner with someone from out of the community if we want to survive now,” said the retired city cop and post office worker, who insisted he never made much money off the lounge.

When Reed leaves he’ll be taking the iconic Lenox Lounge neon sign with him, which has been a staple on Lenox Avenue for years. He trademarked the club’s name and even though he’s giving up the space, he’s not giving up the name.

“If they want to use Lenox Lounge, they will have to negotiate with me. 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.”