Celebrity Chef Marcus Samuelsson Eyeing Historic Lenox Lounge

By Jeff Mays on December 19, 2011 7:20am 

The Lenox Lounge, considered a Harlem icon, is up for lease for $20,000 per month starting in February.
The Lenox Lounge, considered a Harlem icon, is up for lease for $20,000 per month starting in February.
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joseph a/flickr

HARLEM—The Lenox Lounge and its historic Zebra Room may soon be changing its stripes.

The iconic Harlem landmark, located at 288 Lenox Avenue between 124th and 125th streets since 1939, has hosted jazz greats such as Billie Holiday, Miles Davis and John Coltrane and is up for lease.

The 2,250 square foot Art Deco lounge can be had for a cool $20,500 per month starting in February, according to a listing by Walker Malloy & Company.

Sources close to the deal also say that celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson, who operates the popular Red Rooster Harlem just a block away, has expressed interest in the space.

The current lease, which the owner is not renewing, is below market value, according to a source close to the transaction who asked not be named because of the sensitive nature of the negotiations.

"It is getting a lot of attention from restaurants that want to expand," said the source. "It's an iconic establishment that has been there forever. The Lenox Lounge speaks for itself."

Faith Hope Consolo, chairman of Prudential Douglas Elliman’s Retail Group who is an expert on New York's market but is not involved in the listing, agreed.

"This is a famous place. They already have a built-in brand, a history before opening the door," said Consolo. "These famous places change hands and they have instant popularity. People are always looking for the hot place."

The Lenox Lounge's Zebra Room, also known as the Jazz Lounge, hosted literary greats such as James Baldwin and Langston Hughes. Malcolm X may have even hung out there. The vintage facade has been used in countless movies, commercials and photo shoots.

The original interior underwent a renovation about 10 years ago to restore it to its glory days and the menu has been recently upgraded. The lounge was filled with revelers when President Obama won election in 2008.

A spokesman for Samuelsson said she had no information about the situation. Alvin Reed Sr., owner of Lenox Lounge, also did not respond to several calls seeking comment.

Celebrity Chef and owner of Red Rooster Harlem Marcus Samuelsson may be interested in the Lenox Lounge space.
Celebrity Chef and owner of Red Rooster Harlem Marcus Samuelsson may be interested in the Lenox Lounge space.
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DNAinfo/Jeff Mays

According to the listing, the entire 40 foot frontage at 286 Lenox is up for lease, including a vacant restaurant next to the lounge. Combined, the two spaces have 3,285 square feet of space, including a 1,750 square foot basement. The rent for both spaces would be $29,125 per month.

The upstairs space of the building, which is a single room occupancy residence that leases to tenants on a month-by-month basis, is also available.

Some visitors have expressed interest in creating a restaurant with rooftop seating and signage. Many people interested in the space also want to keep the name, according to the source close to the transaction.

One of those people who would keep the name if he leased the space is Lawrence Page, owner of The Pink Tea Cup in the Village and the soon-to-open upscale wine lounge Auberge Laurent on Lenox Avenue and 120th Street.

"I want it to be my next space and compete against Marcus Samuelsson," said Page. "I want to keep the name and the flavor but have a mixologist there creating more than 100 fantastic drinks."

Consolo said the interest in a space such as the Lenox Lounge is also helped by prices that have yet to return to pre-recession, historic highs, and business people who realize prices will continue to climb.

Red Rooster is also becoming a destination, attracting new crowds to Harlem. The $30,000 per month rent for the entire space seems reasonable and the interest in the space is evidence of how Harlem is changing, Consolo added.

"Everything, the shops and the retail, has gotten better," said Consolo. "Finally the hype has met up with Harlem."

Page, who is already plotting future Harlem ventures, is also convinced.

"It's just a matter of time and who's going to write the check," he said.

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