Lenox Lounge finds new home (39934)
Jazzy blasts to welcome the New Year (39911)

Harlem’s famed Lenox Lounge lives to swing another day after a massive rent hike forced the historic jazz mecca to shut its doors after more than 70 years at 288 Lenox Ave. The lounge will reopen just a few blocks north, in all its art deco glory. The new location, at 333 Lenox Ave., is smack-dab in the heart of Harlem’s new night scene, just across the street from Sylvia’s Restaurant and a stone’s throw away from hot newcomers Chez Lucienne, the Cove, Corner Social and Marcus Samuelson’s Red Rooster.

Alvin Reed, who has owned and operated the Lenox Lounge since 1988, spoke with the AmNews about the reprieve for the iconic jazz club and its exciting new venue.

“We’re going to see if we can recreate the Lenox Lounge. We are continuing it as a jazz venue and adding R&B. We’re going to recreate the Zebra Room. I have the trademark for that. We left the old place in good standing, but the signage is trademarked and will be at the new location. There will be two floors with an option for the third floor. We’re keeping the same musicians and adding new ones, too,” Reed told the AmNews.

“I’m excited because all my customers were very excited. When I announced it on New Year’s Eve, we just signed the contract at 8 p.m. They talked me into having a party. I didn’t have beer and just a little liquor. I made the announcement that this was our last night at this location. It took them down a little. Then I said, ‘But we’re moving up the street.’ Everyone was so happy.

“My customers encouraged me to not just walk away and disappear. I got calls from California and Florida. They gave me the ambition to fight. The singers really helped me out, too. They went to the Community Board saying, ‘We need a place to sing.’ Along with my attorney, we did a lot of planning and walking the streets and looking at locations. It still seems like a dream,” he said.

Reed is 73 years young and has been an entrepreneur all his life. He came to Harlem in 1945 from Richmond, Va. “I remember when I first came here over the George Washington Bridge and saw all the lights. We stayed with a cousin on 134th Street, six children, mother and father in two and a half bedrooms. Everybody was migrating from the South. They told us down there that cotton was growing in the streets,” he said.

Reed began his career as an entrepreneur as a young boy selling the Amsterdam News, getting them from a newsstand on 135th Street. He made three cents on each copy he sold. He went on to run a limousine service and promote doo-wop shows. “I got educated at the University of Harlem,” he told the AmNews.

“When I originally purchased the Lenox Lounge in March 1988, I found out it was available in the Amsterdam News. I was always watching and listening to older people, I made so many mistakes but I would stay with them, talking and learning from them. Running a business is hard. You have to really get into it. I did it the hard way, the way that my generation had to do it.

“I felt how Harlem was changing and the new people coming in were knocking some of our businesses out. I wanted to fight back with my Harlem energy. I wasn’t going to just walk away and give up. I wanted to show some Harlem spunk and let people know that we were not going to roll over,” Reed said.

The Lenox Lounge has hosted a who’s who of jazz greats and Harlem legends like Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Billie Holiday, who had a favorite table in a corner of the Zebra Room. Malcolm X, James Baldwin and Langston Hughes were among the A-list patrons.

Reed has seen his share of famous faces come through the Lounge, including trombonist Benny Powell, who played with Count Basie; saxophonist Houston Person; drummer Max Roach; saxophonist Branford Marsalis; and Max “The Sax” Lucas. Quincy Jones was honored there. Even Bono from the band U2 played there last year.

Reed’s attorney, Tyreta Foster, worked diligently with him to secure a new location and is equally excited about being a part of the next chapter of the Lounge’s history. “It’s not about competing. We’re offering Harlem options and Harlem should always have options. We believe that the Lenox Lounge is a brand, and with that being said, it’s a built-in Harlem brand.

“For us, it was about handling business, and that’s what Harlem business owners need to do. We have great people, smart people who care, and if we get together, we can get it done,” Foster said.

Despite running a world-class jazz club, the ever-youthful Reed likes to remain behind the scenes. He’s just happy to see the beloved Lounge go on. “My thing was the Lenox Lounge. I’m modest and low profile. It was all about Lenox Lounge and not me,” he said.

Richard Notar, a managing partner at Nobu, plans to reopen the old space as a music venue in March, but all eyes will be on the next incarnation of the Lenox Lounge, whose opening set begins this summer.