Dizzy Gillespie played here. Billie Holiday had a table here. And now the legendary jazz club Lenox Lounge in Harlem is closing its doors on Dec. 31.
“If the lounge closes, this will be a loss of historic impact. Harlem has to stay Harlem and landmarks like Lenox Lounge help remind visitors and the community of the history of the area. Starbucks is not a tourist attraction,” says Mike Street, a Harlem-based Social/Digital Strategist/Consultant and owner of Facebook.com/HarlemNY, a Facebook page for Harlem with 55,000-plus members.
According to reports, the famed jazz spot, which opened in 1942, could no longer afford its rent. With the new year, the building will have a new owner, Richard Notar. Notar, who is a managing partner of the popular Japanese cuisine Nobu restaurant chain, grew up in Jamaica, Queens, and now lives in Manhattan.
Alvin Reed, who bought the nightclub in 1988 and restored it to its Art Deco splendor, told The New York Times that his rent was raised to $20,000 a month. Reed will retain the name “Lenox Lounge.” Gentrification of Harlem has raised rents across the board. According to the Times, "Real estate developers have said that retail space in the area now commands rents of $60 to $70 per square foot.”
While some longtime residents are fighting the changes in Harlem, others are embracing them. “I feel that Harlem is evolving,” says Street. “There is no area in the U.S. that you can point to that has stayed exactly the same. Harlem needs new blood and old blood. So I welcome the new developments but it is critical for Harlem to preserve its rich history but add new and rich experiences. There has been a cry from the community that Harlem is changing too much. Those who have lived here for generations want Harlem to slow down a bit.”
Notar, who in the late 1990s tried, unsuccessfully, to reestablish another Harlem jazz spot called Minton's Playhouse, told the Times he doesn´t plan on changing anything about the Lenox Lounge and, in fact, hopes he and Reed could come to an agreement over the name.