Historic Harlem Restaurant Reopens Indoor Seating, but Diners are Choosing to Stay Outdoors for Now

Harlem institution Londel’s Supper Club — or Londel’s for short — reopened for indoor dining on Wednesday for the first time since March. Inside, the tables are spaced out to comply with social distancing regulations, and the owner, Londel Davis, is armed with an infrared thermometer to take customers’ temperatures before letting them in the door. So far, however, diners are sticking to outdoor seating.

Davis, 74, opened Londel’s over 25 years ago. A Harlem native, he began his career as a New York Police Department officer and was injured in the line of duty before retiring in 1981. Davis then pursued a handful of entrepreneurial ventures, including a deli and a barber shop, before opening the restaurant that bears his name and legacy.

The restaurant’s walls are lined with Davis posing alongside some of his most famous customers. Since it opened in 1994, Londel’s has hosted stars like Halle Berry and Mariah Carey, as well as political giants like former President Bill Clinton and members of the Congressional Black Caucus, including Rep. Maxine Waters and the late Rep. John Lewis. Davis even has a photo with former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger: “He’s a nice guy. I don’t like his politics, but he’s a nice guy,” he remarked.

Davis said he wasn’t expecting a crowd for his first night of indoor seating. It was a Wednesday, after all. However, he believes that reopening indoor dining will be crucial for him and his restaurant as the weather gets colder. “The cost of making outdoor dining work in the winter is not worth it,” he explained.

Laren Smith, 30, said that she will continue to eat outside as long as the weather allows. Her daughter Chase, 2, agreed: “I like the air,” she exclaimed, peeking out from behind a napkin. Smith explained that her decision to eat outdoors had more to do with the warm weather than with any concerns over the coronavirus, adding that she’ll head indoors when winter arrives.

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Rose Gilbert is a student at Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism, covering topics including Harlem and small businesses in New York City.
Before enrolling at Columbia, she was a senior news reporter at the Daily Princetonian, writing about migration policy, graduate student affairs and protests at Princeton University. Twitter: @rosegilbert99, Instagram: @roseamgilbert.

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