Before 2009 is over, there's still time to visit the Lenox Lounge and celebrate its 70th year in Harlem.
photos from my flickr
Opened in 1939, the Lenox Lounge was, according to its website, "the back drop for many jazz legends such as Billie Holiday, Miles Davis, and John Coltrane. The Jazz Club also known as the Zebra Room was once used by the Harlem Renaissance writes James Baldwin and Langston Hughes. It was also said to be a hangout for Malcolm X."
After a downturn, it was restored in 1999. Said owner Alvin Reed at the time, ''I'm a person of the past; I love the past. When I first took over, I had some people who didn't really appreciate the decor of the place. They were like, 'Oh we're glad it's a new owner. Now you can modernize this place.'" Thankfully, he didn't.
Today the Lenox Lounge retains its Art-Deco splendor. The floor is tiled, the ceiling is leather, the Zebra Room in back is still upholstered in zebra skin. The highly decorated bathroom doors are designated for "Ladies" and "Gents."
In the middle of the day, the Lenox Lounge feels like a comfy, gorgeous dive--in the best sense of the word--a neighborhood bar, nothing fancy. Old-timers sit at the bar's corner, where old-timers always seem to sit. You can find these same men in black-and-white photos on the wall, back in the days when they played in the Zebra Room.
The only reminder that it's 2009 and not 1939 are the flatscreen TVs, showing some sort of ballgame about which the friendly barmaid will be shouting over fumbles or home runs. And don't be surprised when someone buys you a drink for no other reason than they felt like it. It's that kind of place.