Allegations of sexual assault, discrimination, racism, sexism, and “toxic environments” have marred two of New York’s biggest gay nightlife promoters, Michael J. Cohen of Motel 23, and Bob Fluet of Bar Fluid LLC, which owns The Q, according to NBC News and a lawsuit filed in court. Some of the allegations have caught the attention of the city’s Human Rights Commission.
Fluet, along with one of his former business partners, Alan Picus, (whose name also appears as Allan Pikus in media reports) were both sued by former business partner Frankie Sharp in May. Sharp accused Picus of sexual misconduct with patrons in front of employees, as well as racism, sexism, and discrimination, among other accusations, according to State Supreme Court documents.
Picus is no longer employed by Bar Fluid LLC, according to his lawyer, Thomas D. Shanahan, PC.
Sharp accused Fluet and Bar Fluid LLC of breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, fraudulent misrepresentation, negligent misrepresentation, unjust enrichment, accounting, and fraudulent concealment.
The lawsuit accused Picus of telling Sharp to “make sure your Latin nights are the good kind of Latin nights. Not Blatinos.” The lawsuit further states that Pikus wanted to make The Q “comfortable for white twinks.” Among other points, the suit alleged that staff members who were working by the door at The Q told Sharp that Pikus “had told them to stop admitting women.”
Bar Fluid LLC is also the parent company of Boxers and Hush, also co-owned by Fluet.
Separately, NBC News broke the story about nine people’s allegations of a range of sexual misconduct — some when the individuals were underage — against Cohen, 45, the majority owner of Motel 23, that allegedly occurred during the past decade. NBC News interviewed 45 people since the anonymous Instagram account, @mymotel23reality, started posting people’s experiences at the popular Chelsea gay bar in New York.
The Instagram user, who remained anonymous, told NBC News he’s received “a flood of messages with allegations.” The allegations have not been verified.
Motel 23 has been hit with seven complaints for underage drinking since last fall, according to NBC News.
Both queer night clubs opened during the pandemic — Motel 23 in 2020 and The Q in 2021 — and boast of high-profile gay investors and patrons from Hollywood to Wall Street.
Price for admission
Some of Cohen’s accusers range from their late teens to mid-20s and only recently came out. They told NBC News that Cohen repeatedly groped them touching their genitals and buttocks and one stated he made promises of employment if he performed oral sex. The employment opportunity never followed.
Cohen’s accusers told NBC News that they didn’t ask Cohen to stop because they didn’t want to lose their connection to gay nightlife. One of the accusers, Charles Battersby, who met Cohen when he was 19 years old in 2015, claimed to NBC News that he was groped without his consent by Cohen at multiple parties.
Cohen denied the sexual assault allegations, his spokesperson, Alafair Hall, wrote in a statement to NBC News. Hall also denied stories of young men being drugged and said it was “false” that the bar treated patrons differently based on their race or gender.
In a statement to NBC News from Rebecca Kaufman, an attorney for Cohen, she wrote, “There is no investigation by any agency into Mr. Cohen or Motel 23.”
“Mr. Cohen would welcome the unveiling of anonymous sources who falsely accused him and the chance of confronting them in court — no person should be subjected to the guilt-before-innocence presumption he has endured,” she added.
Three weeks after @mymotel23reality launched, on July 28, Motel 23 announced it was temporarily closed for renovations. However, NBC News reported the nightclub’s website and social media accounts were closed in the weeks that followed. The club has not reopened.
The allegations against Motel 23 have caught New York’s Human Rights Commission’s attention, which is “closely monitoring this issue,” the commission’s executive director of communications and marketing, Jose Rios Lua, told NBC News.
Rios Lua could not confirm if an investigation has been opened or not, citing a need to avoid interference “with the agency’s law enforcement mission,” he wrote.
Rios Lua did not respond to Gay City News’ multiple requests for comment.
Welcoming in NYC’s diverse queer nightlife
Veteran lesbian bar owner Lisa Cannistraci at Henrietta Hudson, spoke about diversity and inclusion in New York’s queer nightlife when Gay City News reached out to her in August.
The queer bar, which opened as a lesbian bar in 1991 in the West Village, evolved during its more than three decades in business. Cannistraci credits her staying power to listening to the community, embracing diversity, and changing with the times.
“To not be inclusive is a choice,” Cannistraci said, declining to comment about the accusations against The Q. She pointed to the current anti-LGBTQ political landscape across the United States with anti-transgender bills and same-sex marriage potentially at stake.
“You’re telling somebody in your community they’re not welcome,” she said. “It’s crazy, but it’s happening. But it’s not happening in my bar.”