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The "Mad Men" Files: Lenox Lounge

Filed under: The Squib Report   Tagged: , , ,

Martin Schneider writes:

The setting for the arresting first scene of the entire series, in which the as yet unidentified Don Draper quizzes a black restaurant peon about his brand of cigarettes, is the Lenox Lounge, according to Matthew Weiner in the DVD commentary to the series opener. Still in operation today, the Harlem landmark is located at 288 Lenox Avenue, just off Malcolm X Boulevard at 125th St., although that stretch of Sixth Avenue obviously didn't bear that name in 1960—just another sign of how things change, a central theme of the show.

It seems a bit implausible that Don Draper would spend that evening alone in Harlem, perhaps 75 blocks north of his office and at least 110 blocks north of Midge's apartment, his eventual destination. Then again, as we later learn, Don is a devotee of Ingmar Bergman's movies and Frank O'Hara's poetry, so he does have the capacity to surprise in this regard; the Lenox Lounge is a legendary jazz club, so he might be there to catch Lady Day deliver a memorable rendition of "I Cover the Waterfront." (By the by, it is just me or have they blunted this side of Don in Season 3?)

I've been to the Lenox Lounge before, and I'm a little confused as to how seriously we're meant to take Weiner's information—it's one thing for Draper himself to want to go there, quite another for it to be crammed with white office workers as a matter of course. Does anyone know the general demographic characteristics of the place during that period? It didn't look like that (demographically speaking) in 2000 or so, when I was there.

I was hoping for a little insight on this question from The New Yorker, but no such luck: the references to the Lenox Lounge are all recent, the finest among them being an interesting photograph of the club's interior, in a Portfolio by Robert Polidori, text by Kurt Andersen.


They filmed it there, but I think it’s meant to be a generic Mad Men-esque bar, without identity.

Of course that makes sense. I’m kind of an idiot. Oh well, we’ll keep the false trail up for academic interest.

Also, the picture is nice either way.

I love the thought of Don immersed in Harlem night life, a fish out of water intrigued by the new world he sees and, of course, seducing someone in the process!

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