When I read a couple of weeks ago that Lenox Lounge was closing, I almost lost my mind. Not that I had actually ever been there before—but that was actually the point. I have lived in Harlem for more than 11 years, and never set foot inside the iconic lounge, supper club, and restaurant. How could that be? I had walked by it countless time, had read articles about the great jazz musicians and singers that had filled the Zebra Room with heady lyrics and smooth melodies, yet I had never ordered a drink at their bar or sipped a cocktail while listening to one of their live weekly jazz offerings with dinner. And here we are—ending 2012—and we had to rush to Lenox Lounge before it closes on the 31st. Sure, I am aware that Richie Notar (he runs a little spot called Nobu, in case you’ve heard of it) is going to (now) change the name to Notar’s Jazz Club (check out the details on Harlemgal’s Blog) and reopening in March, but this newly disclosed name change and promise that he ‘won’t change much’ smacks of disingenuous lip service given to Community Board 10 so they would let him move his restaurant takeover plans forward. Let’s be honest—Harlem is the new restaurant hotspot (sorry LES, you’re old news), and if Red Rooster’s success is any indication of the profit potential that Harlem has to offer, Notar is making a sound and smart business move. Though I have no doubt that Notar will create a beautiful restaurant with amazing food, I am not at all convinced that it will ever achieve what Lenox Lounge effortlessly offers right now: seventy years of history, legacy, and a Harlem authenticity reminiscent of what built and defined this place that I call home.
Truth be told the food was bad (the cornbread and collard greens were really the only things I would eat again) and though our waitress was sweet, the service was terrible (she forgot two different drink orders and needed to be reminded to bring water on two separate occasions). Much of the food tasted old, and the portions that seemed fresher were weighed down in too much breading, salt, and grease. But, just because the food is bad I am not advocating a replacement; perhaps just a menu makeover and a new (local & sustainable) way of sourcing their food supplies?
But this brings me back to my original point—and the true point that only I can be blamed for—if Lenox Lounge hadn’t been closing then I wouldn’t have felt any urgency to go there because I thought it would be there forever. It’s my fault, and every other person who figured it would be there forever, that got Lenox Lounge into this mess in the first place—and now a historic hotpot in my neighborhood is shutting its doors, and there is nothing that my last minute dinner and $250 check is going to do to change that. Perhaps if I had gone more it would be different—perhaps if we had all gone more and made an effort to keep this living piece of history in our community alive it would be different. You’ve got a few days left—and you should go. Come March 2013, I can guarantee that Notar’s Jazz Club will have a line out the door every night, and that it will feel nothing like Lenox Lounge does today.