Places that Matter

Lenox Lounge

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Lenox Lounge, photograph by Elena Martinez
Lenox Lounge, photograph by Elena Martinez
Leonx Lounge, photograph by Elena Martinez
Interior, photograph by Chester Burger
Historic jazz club, home of the famous Zebra Room
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By Nina Moffitt

The Lenox Lounge is an historic bar and jazz club in Harlem where you can drink, dine and hear straight-ahead jazz players, young and old, playing from swing to modern and bebop jazz in the famous "Zebra Room."

The Lenox Lounge

The Lenox Lounge is located on Lenox Avenue between 124th and 125th streets, right outside the 125th St. subway station. You can’t miss its name on the front of the building, in large block letters brightly illuminated at night. Standing outside, you can look through big glass windows into the front bar and see Harlem locals chatting and drinking after work. When you walk through the bar to the back, you will be asked to pay a cover ($10-20, depending on the day and performance) to enter the famous "Zebra Room" where live music is played nightly.

Push through the Zebra Room's early 1940s swinging glass-and-wood double doors, and you will be enclosed in a beautiful room famous for its Art Deco interior. Black leather banquettes wrap themselves around curving zebra-print walls, with a few cozy tables in the center. Space for the band is to the right. The performances are intimate, for the band plays directly in front of the tables, and every seat in the room is privileged with a good view and sound. If you choose to sit in the first banquette to your left, next to the band, you will be occupying the 'Billie Holiday booth,' a space that was once reserved weekly for the singer herself. You may feel as though you've actually stepped into the 1940s, an important part of the appeal of the Lounge.

The Zebra Room is open for dinner Wednesday through Sunday after 5pm, and for lunch during the week from 11-2 pm, catering to a Southern and Creole palate. Music can be heard every day of the week. Friday and Saturday nights host top-flight headliners such as the Louis Hayes Quartet, composer Bill Lee, Benny Powell Quartet, and the Houston Person Quartet. Sunday night is the Vocal Jazz Open Mic Night hosted by the Lafayette Harris trio, and Monday nights Patience Higgins and the Sugar Hill Quartet hold a late night jam session, a tradition of the past three years.

A Landmark of Harlem History

Lenox Avenue was a main thoroughfare for Harlem's African American community in the early decades of the twentieth century, its growth spurred by the creation of the Lenox Avenue subway line. Many of the city's great entertainment spots took root on Lenox between 115th and 145th streets. The Lenox Lounge owes its name to its location on 125th and Lenox Avenue, the center of the entertainment stretch. The lounge was a hot spot for after-hours jam sessions, boasting performances by legends such as Billie Holiday, John Coltrane and Miles Davis. The bar is said to also have been a gathering space for luminaries such as Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, and a young Malcolm X.