Gospel brunch prices range from modest to middling. At Lola's, one price, $29.75, covers the show and the food, sumptuous portions of fried chicken or trendier menu items in an airy, pastel-colored room with a back wall made up entirely of windows.
In Harlem, the fare is primarily soul food.
At Copeland's, on West 145th Street, $15.95 buys a taste of everything--refills, too--from a big, long buffet table piled with old favorites such as baked ham, hush puppies, fried catfish, salmon croquettes, scrambled eggs, potato salad and a real novelty, chicken wings with corn bread stuffing, with a complimentary Bloody Mary or mimosa cocktail.
At the Cotton Club on West 125th, the fare is classic, as befits the latest incarnation of the legendary nightspot. For $25, you can't go wrong with the hearty, even hefty, brunch of fried chicken, ribs, black-eyed peas, macaroni and cheese, yams and collard greens seasoned with pork.
Sylvia's, over on the former Lenox Avenue (now Malcolm X Boulevard), cooks its very tasty collard greens with smoked turkey wings. But the smothered chicken gets my vote. Prices on the open menu range from $8.95 to $18.
Each restaurant has its own concept of the proper ambience for gospel music. Lola's is elegant, Copeland's is sedate, Sylvia's is trendy. At the Cotton Club, the walls are lined with photos of old-time headliners such as Louis Armstrong, Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington, Lena Horne and many others.
It's safe for couples and small groups to travel on their own to these Harlem clubs, especially during daytime. In general, yellow taxis, which service midtown Manhattan, don't often pick up fares in Harlem, where car services and gypsy cabs take care of business. The restaurants will call car services for customers. Prices of car services, gypsy cabs and yellow taxis are about the same. A ride from Sylvia's to Times Square costs about $13 including tip.
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New York for a Song
Brunches: Lola's, 30 W. 22nd St., Manhattan; telephone (212) 675-6700. Sunday seatings at 9:30 and 11:30 a.m., 1:45 p.m. Price: $29.75.
Copeland's, 547 W. 145th St., between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue, Harlem; tel. (212) 234-2356. Sunday seatings at noon, 2 p.m. Show and buffet $19.66 per person, includes tax and cocktail.
Cotton Club, 656 W. 125th St., between Broadway and Riverside Drive, Harlem; tel. (212) 663-7980, fax (212) 663-6879. Gospel brunches Saturdays and Sundays, noon, 2:30 and 6 p.m. Price: $25.
Sylvia's, 328 Malcolm X Blvd. between 126th and 127th streets, Harlem; tel. (212) 996-0660. Sunday gospel brunch, 12:30-3 p.m.; evening open-mike gospel performances, 7:30-10:30 p.m. Brunch, open menu, $8.95-$18.
Tour companies: Harlem Spirituals (690 8th Ave., between 43rd and 44th streets, Manhattan; tel.  391-0900). Offers multilingual tours. Wednesday and Sunday morning tours visit churches for gospel services, then Sylvia's restaurant on Wednesdays (lunch only; no live music), and the Cotton Club on Sundays for gospel brunch. Tour with brunch, $60, adults; without brunch, $33. Credit cards accepted only with advance payment. Reservations advised.
Harlem Your Way (129 W. 130th St., Harlem; tel.  690-1687, fax  866-7133) conducts tours of Harlem daily, including historic neighborhoods, churches and Sunday gospel brunches. Rates: $35, Sunday church and neighborhood bus tour; $32, walking tour; lower rates for seniors, children, college students; tour plus brunch: $55-$60, depending on restaurant. Reservations necessary.
Grey Line Tours (Port Authority Bus Terminal, 8th Avenue at 42nd Street, Manhattan; tel.  397-2600,  695-0001). Sunday tours of Harlem neighborhoods and one church service start at terminal at 9 a.m. (multilingual at 8:30) and return at noon; will drop off passengers who want to attend a gospel brunch on their own. No reservations needed. Tours in English, $33 for adults, $24 for children under 12; multilingual, $1 more.