Brooklyn Nightclub Fire: “It could have been so much worse”

Tyler Glenn had only been working at Brooklyn’s Rash nightclub for about an hour when they returned from the beer storage downstairs to find the bar filled with smoke. “It’s kind of funny,” Glenn said on the phone last week, “my first thought was, ‘Wow, they really kicked off the fog machine.'” It took a few seconds to realize how great he was hard to breathe, and a split second more to notice: “Oh, there’s a huge fire in here.”

Rash, which opened late last year, is the newest club in a Bushwick, Brooklyn neighborhood known for its queer nightlife. On Sunday April 3, what should have been a standard Sunday night – DJ Maluquera’s collective was to perform in the club’s sweaty, uplifting back room – quickly turned into a nightmare. In the lull before the club officially opened for the night, no one noticed when a man wearing a hoodie and face mask entered the space. He kept dumping a bucket of gasoline onto the floor and the bar, then setting it on fire.

Two people were immediately taken to hospital. One of the DJs of the evening, installed in the back room, suffered second degree burns. The other, Glenn, was intubated for smoke inhalation. “It was so dark and smoky that I didn’t know where the door was. I was banging on the walls,” Glenn said, just days after they were released from hospital. On the verge of passing out, they found the side door and, in a moment of panic, rushed to a nearby bar, Birdy’s, and screamed for help.

Courtesy of Rash Bar

Jake Sillen, co-owner of Rash, rushed after receiving a call, arriving at the same time as the police. “It was huge. Smoke was coming out of the building. There were 60 firefighters, it was pretty much chaos. Speaking last Tuesday, Sillen stressed that despite the destruction, an attack later that night would have been catastrophic. “We’re so grateful for that,” Sillen said. “It didn’t end well, but it could have been a lot worse.”

Since last Sunday, the police have not been able to find any leads. The arsonist disappeared as quickly as he had come. Security camera footage released by the NYPD is spectacular, but offers no insight. Standing in the hallway connecting Rash’s front bar to the club’s rear dance space, a man described by police as ‘approximately 20 to 30 years old, 5ft 9in tall and weighing 180lbs’ carrying a bag backpack, winter coat, and hoodie, calmly empties his canister, throws a match, and disappears as the entire frame is engulfed in flames.

Image taken from security camera footage of the attack on Rash Bar.

For Sillen, Glenn and many others, the attack compounds a growing sense of unease in Brooklyn’s LGBTQ+ nightlife community. Last September, a 43-year-old man was stabbed inside the popular Bossa Nova Civic Club nightclub, just a five-minute walk from Rash. In February, according to reports from participants on social media, a pepper bomb was dropped on a crowded dance floor at Today, a sprawling club in Queens. And in August of last year, bricks were thrown through the window of C’mon Everybody, a drag performance and pop music mainstay a few miles from neighboring Bed-Stuy.

Eric Sosa, co-founder and owner of C’mon Everybody, emerged from last Sunday’s attack feeling “sad, angry and scared”. C’mon Everybody, like Rash, was explicitly envisioned as a safe space for the queer community. “For someone to come in and bring hatred and violence is really upsetting and unnerving.”

Other Rash employees who spoke with rolling stone describe an increase in harassment on the streets and on trains, prompting more revelers to travel in crowd-funded car services than in the past. “At night, the streets aren’t as safe as they were three or four years ago,” Sillen noted on our call. Glenn, for his part, attributes the rise in violence to state and federal failures to provide for New York residents in the face of COVID-19. “Many people’s lives have changed for the worse. People get on the subway and vent their frustrations on random strangers. According to Glenn, members of the LGBT community tend to be easy targets.

If there’s a silver lining, it’s the quick and vocal response from the community. A GoFundMe Launched to Cover Hospital Costs, Lost Wages, and Reconstruction Efforts has, at the time of writing, raised over $85,000. Last Tuesday, New York City Mayor Eric Adams tweeted a post with a link to the GoFundMe page, along with a message that read “while this incident is still under investigation, make no mistake : anyone who comes to my city seeks to sow fear and hatred will pay the consequences.

True to form, other supporters plan to help out in the best way they know how: by dancing. Last Saturday, Mood Ring hosted an event originally planned for Rash, revamped to serve as a fundraiser.

Host Angel Prost, DJ and member of hyper-pop duo Frost Children, knew the show had to go on as soon as she received a FaceTime from a friend outside with a steaming rash on Sunday night, and although she initially considered moving the event online. , she soon reconsidered. “Somehow putting the show online was like hesitating,” she said on Friday. “What the service would be is to keep it in person. Be like, “Fuck you” to whoever thinks they can burn this.

Richard Dement

The author Richard Dement