All Al Reed wants is for one of Harlem’s most recognized jazz clubs to continue its legacy – even if it’s owned by a pal of actor Robert De Niro.
Reed, who has owned Lenox Lounge since 1988, will not be renewing his lease when it ends in June because he can’t afford the rent.
“I’m not selling the place; the landlord is increasing the rent, that I can’t pay,” he told the Daily News of the club that has been a stage for jazz greats ranging from Billie Holiday to Miles Davis.
“I’m sad about it, but I’m realistic. I can’t do too much about it,” he said. “I’m more concerned about Lenox Lounge existing even if it exists without me.”
The landlord is hiking the rent for the historic jazz institution from $10,000 per month to $20,000, he said.
“There’s no way I can do that…I’m not mad. That’s their business decision They wanted to make some money,” he said, adding at least nine different groups have come to “look at” the 74-person capacity space on Lenox Ave. near W. 125th St.
Among the interested buyers, he said, include the owner of the Pink Tea Cup restaurant Lawrence Page, Red Rooster owner Marcus Samuelsson and a partner of actor Robert De Niro.
“Most of them want to use the name,” said Reed, 72, noting at least one interested buyer was considering turning it into a “rock club.”
While Reed knows he can’t afford to stay, he’s hopeful he will still have a hand in the future of Lenox Lounge if the new owner decides to continue the legacy of the jazz spot that first opened in 1939.
Reed owns the trade rights to Lenox Lounge, he said, and he made it clear, he’s not giving up everything.
“I’m not going to sell the name,” he said. “If they want to use Lenox Lounge, they will have to negotiate with me. I brought it back and I want to see it stay there. I want to keep the legacy alive.”
Reed, a life-long Harlem resident who started out selling 15 cent copies of the Amsterdam News when he was about 8, said he’s disappointed to see so many area businesses closing up.
“We almost have to partner with someone from out of the community if we want to survive now,” said the retired city cop and Post Office worker, who insisted he never made much money off the lounge.
Still, Reed hopes the new owner – whoever it is – will keep him in mind.
“The hope is that I can get a little piece of the action,” he said. “I am Lenox Lounge, and I will be Lenox Lounge for quite some time. And if they want Lenox Lounge, they want me.”