Sneak Peek: The Sunset Lounge in West Palm Beach is one step closer to completion
In its heyday, the Sunset Lounge in West Palm Beach attracted some of the most influential Black jazz and soul singers from the 1930s through the 70s. The West Palm Beach Community Redevelopment Agency purchased the building in 2015; $16 million later, WLRN donned a hard hat to see the final stages of the renovation.
Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, you name it — the two-story lounge on 8th and Henrietta avenues drew as many as a thousand people, adorned in evening gowns and tuxedos.
Carle Wayne Vickers is a 74-year-old trumpet and sax player who watched jam sessions as a teenager and eventually went on tour with R&B duo Sam and Dave.
“We’d stand outside there on Henrietta and just listen to those bands. I mean sometimes it would be a battle of the bands even,” Vickers told WLRN. “And one would play and the other would play, man we were just paralyzed there. We couldn’t go anywhere because these were our heroes.”
The 12,308-square-foot building has a full-service restaurant and 150-seat bar along with an elevated stage and mezzanine. The addition of a new two-story 7,200 sq. ft. building, which is attached to the existing lounge, features a roof garden, broadcast facility, the restaurant kitchen, office space, and box office.
The Sunset Lounge is scheduled to re-open in late winter.
Vickers says the Sunset was a symbol of Black excellence during the Jim Crow era. “Professional people, the teachers, the clergymen, you know, even boy scouts and stuff like that just, made the community cohesive,” said Vickers. “I could not have been raised in a better place. And that is in spite of Jim Crow.”
Genia Baker, project manager for the West Palm Beach Community Redevelopment Agency, gave WLRN an overview of the facility, as well as the new two-story building attached to the existing historic building.
“It is almost through final restoration,” said Baker. “We will be receiving a TSO, temporary certificate of occupancy in July, at which time we hope to have an operator on board who will come in and help us with the FF&E, which is the Finishes, Fixtures and Equipment.”
After issuing a Request for Proposal (RFP), the West Palm Beach CRA is seeking a restaurant and lounge operator to manage programming and various operations. Applicants have until May 11 to submit proposals.
The agency commissioned Cooper Construction Management & Consulting for most of the project. And the agency tapped V Starr, a West Palm Beach-based design firm led by tennis star and CEO Venus Williams, to handle the interior restoration in the historic building.
In a press conference, Christopher Roog, executive director of the West Palm Beach CRA, said the agency “wanted to start sharing the inside and the progress of this project to really highlight the importance of what we’re doing.”
“The showing of the Sunset Lounge is really meant to create a bit of buzz as we get excited for the grand opening of the Sunset Lounge, which we anticipate to be by the end of the year or beginning of 2023,” Roog said.