Recently, I took a walk by the once glorious Lenox Lounge. After three years, the building is still sitting empty -- and up for rent.
What happened to all those grand plans to take over this piece of Harlem history?
After 73 years in business, the club served its last drinks on New Year's Eve, December 31, 2012. The landlord had doubled the rent, from $10,000 to $20,000 per month, essentially forcing owner Alvin Reed out of business.
Richie Notar, of luxury restaurant chain Nobu, was taking over the spot. At the time, many suspected this was another--call it a history grab, like the takeover of Rocco Ristorante, Bill's Gay 90s, Minetta Tavern, and countless other historic dining and drinking establishments. Deep-pocketed new owners with mini restaurant empires like to cash in on the cachet that comes with the classics--after they turn them upscale, of course.
Instead of letting the newcomers profit on Harlem history, so infused in the club's aesthetic, Alvin Reed stripped the facade of the Lenox Lounge and took the neon sign with him.
In December 2013 Notar told the Daily News, “This is a gem of New York. I don’t want to change a thing about how it looks,” adding that the new club will be “not too much different than what it is now.”
Did he change his mind after Reed took the good stuff? He told the Daily News in 2015 that "the scope of the project (mostly the overall condition of the building) became bigger than anticipated," leading to delays. He has since moved on to another location, leaving the Lenox behind to rot.
After the closure, someone spray-painted on the plywood that covered the door: "1939 - 2012: 80 YEARS FOR THIS," pointing out the terrible loss. The message has since been painted over in black paint, but the accusation still lingers.
A local small business owner lost his business and Harlem lost a piece of its history so a landlord could double his money and a luxury restaurateur could expand his empire. And now? The Lenox Lounge is just another gutted storefront, another example of hyper-gentrification's "high-rent blight."
Walker Malloy has the real estate listing -- the landlord is now asking $40,000 per month for the lounge and its vacant neighbor.
Meanwhile, across the street, a massive new building is going up, with a Burlington Coat Factory and a Whole Foods inside.