As another evening falls, the Lenox Lounge sits dim and lonely. Commuters pour out of the 125th Street subway station and onto Lenox Avenue, past its padlocked door. At Ginny’s Supper Club across the street, a mostly black crowd of men in suits and women in heels sips and sways as a band turns out a haunting rendition of John Coltrane’s “My Favorite Things.”
It is said that Coltrane once blew his sax at the Lenox Lounge, which kept regulars, downtowners and tourists coming back for 70 years, even through the neighborhood’s bleak times. Now, with Harlem resurgent, only its remains are on display: its Art Deco finishes, familiar red paneling and famous sign have all been stripped away.
The Lenox Lounge shut down Dec. 31 after a bitter lease dispute between the club’s owner and his landlord. The space was supposed to reopen within weeks under new management. But overnight, Alvin Reed, the bar’s operator, removed the fixtures and furnishings and took them to a nearby storefront, where, he has said, he plans to reopen. That prompted a $50 million lawsuit from Ricky Edmonds, the landlord, demanding the fixtures be returned. Their next meeting before a judge, to present a settlement or set a court date, is scheduled for April 4.
For the moment, at least, plans for two versions of the Lenox Lounge are unfolding in parallel: one in the storied original location; the other up the street, with the lounge’s fabled interior and trademarked name.
They will have company. Farther south, on West 118th Street and St. Nicholas Avenue, another investor plans to reopen the legendary jazz haunt Minton’s Playhouse, which before a recent short-lived run had been closed for almost as much of its raucous 75-year history as it had been open.
Maybe it’s a long shot. But within the neighborhood’s current economic remix, with its new condos and destination restaurants, three businessmen have latched on to the same dream at the same time: reviving a piece of vintage Harlem with a jumping, jamming jazz spot, that this time will outlive the past.
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