A brand new LGBTQ-friendly bar in Brooklyn went up in flames over the weekend when someone set the place on fire and fled the scene, leaving the owners and employees in a state of shock.
It was around 9 p.m. on April 3 when an unknown individual waltzed into Rash, a bar located at 941 Willoughby Avenue, and started pouring gasoline on the ground, according to the bar’s owners. The alleged attacker then lit a match and tossed it on the gasoline-soaked ground, sparking a fire that rapidly ripped through the interior of the establishment. There were employees inside the bar when the fire started, including a 25-year-old who was sent to Wyckoff Hospital with minor burns and another person who was checked out for minor shoulder burns.
Much of the bar was destroyed and it is remaining closed for the time being.
“It has been a tough week for pretty much everybody that we work with, and right now we’re not really thinking about anything too far in the future — but we’re definitely going to come back from this,” Jake Sillen, the bar’s co-owner, said in an interview with Gay City News. Claire Bendiner is the other co-owner of the bar, which just opened five months ago.
Police have not made any arrests in the case, but on April 6 the bar’s Instagram page unveiled a glimpse of the alleged attacker from security camera footage.
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The bar’s owners do not describe the establishment specifically as an LGBTQ bar — but it has nonetheless drawn a queer crowd.
“Both owners are queer ourselves, including a majority of the staff,” Sillen said.
Authorities would not answer when asked if the incident is being investigated as a hate crime targeting LGBTQ individuals.
“That’s a fear and that is the first thing that comes to mind,” Sillen added. “Right now, there is just nothing about the identity or motive of this person, so we don’t want to jump to conclusions. But it’s hard not to come to that conclusion.”
Because the fire forced the bar to shut down, the bar’s owners have launched a GoFundMe page to raise money for staffers who have suddenly lost wages as well as for the forthcoming process of rebuilding the bar. The GoFundMe page has so far hauled in more than $53,000 towards a goal of $200,000.
The arson attack comes after a series of similar, but less destructive arson attacks were carried out several years ago at Alibi Lounge, a Black-owned LGBTQ bar in Harlem. An individual was arrested in 2019 for repeatedly setting Rainbow Flags on fire in front the bar, and then the establishment was attacked again in 2020 when someone broke in, destroyed the door, and robbed the cash registers.