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Powerful NYC Nightlife Promoter Accused of Sexual Misconduct

Another day, another messy nightlife story. While the dust may have settled a bit in regards to the drama surrounding The Q, now another gay establishment has come under fire.

Michael J. Cohen, a well known nightlife promoter in NYC and owner of gay bar Motel 23 has been accused by nine men of pressuring them for sexual favors and nude photos in exchange for access to his exclusive parties and job opportunities.

Like Alan Picus formerly of The Q, he's also been accused of enforcing racist door policies and other discriminatory business practices.

One accuser named Stephen Carlstrom revealed that in 2017 while working as a model in college, said that Cohen, who was 40 at the time, promised him a lucrative gig attending parties and then pressured him to perform oral sex. The job opportunity never transpired, Carlstrom said.

“It just felt extremely predatory and manipulative afterward,” Carlstrom said. “I definitely wouldn’t have done that if he didn’t talk me into it.”

And in 2021, a man who was under 21 at the time said that Cohen poured him two to three drinks at Motel 23, the popular gay bar Cohen owns in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood with other investors. The man said that he soon had trouble keeping his eyes open and his head up, and Cohen led him to a private space in the bar. “I don’t want to,” the man said he told Cohen, but he said Cohen unbuttoned his pants and touched his genitals.

Swatting Cohen’s hands away is the last thing the man remembers before waking up the next morning alone on the curb of a Manhattan street, lying between two parked cars, he said.

Another accuser who requested anonymity, “J.”, said that when he was an 18-year-old NYU freshman, “Cohen persistently pushed for a picture of J.’s penis, threatening that he would blacklist J. and his friends from all gay clubs in New York if he refused.”

“I thought, ‘Oh, my god, this guy has so much power, this guy has so much control — he’s really going to prevent me and my friends from going to any gay club ever again,'” J. said.

Charles Battersby, left, and Stephen Carlstrom in New York in August 2022.

The creator of the Instagram account @mymotel23reality revealed to NBC that when he and his friend visited the bar back in June, Cohen was going to let him in for free, but charge his friend, who is black $250.

Several other patrons who have attended the establishment said that door staff at the bar, and at his events treated white patrons better than women and people of color.

And to add insult to injury, while Cohen is majority owner, he opened the bar with financial help from four influential investors, including Bryan Singer, the disgraced filmmaker who has been accused of sexual misconduct of several young men, which he vehemently denies.

Other investors include Jeff Davis, creator of Criminal Minds and Teen Wolf; Anthony Watson, a banking executive and a former board member of the LGBTQ media advocacy group GLAAD; and the financier Adam Press, a former board member of the queer advocacy organization Freedom to Marry.

Cohen has hosted gay parties at glamorous New York nightclubs — including Goldbar, PHD Rooftop Lounge at the Dream Downtown hotel and Fishbowl at the Dream Midtown hotel — with reliable crowds of attractive men and star-studded guest lists. Some of the world’s most well-known gay celebrities, including British Olympic gold medalist Tom Daley, actor Neil Patrick Harris and rapper Lil Nas X, have been photographed with Cohen or made an appearance at Motel 23. Representatives for Daley, Harris and Lil Nas X did not respond to requests for comment.

“It was known for him to be an older man that liked the younger boys,” said Brita Filter, a star of “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” who has performed in New York City’s gay bars for over eight years. “If you’re a really good-looking, young white boy, Michael is going to be into you.” Filter said she has noticed that Cohen’s parties are frequented by young men; she has not observed Cohen harming anyone.

NBC Out did an extensive breakdown of what transpired, which apparently has been going on for the past decade. You can read the full story here.

I wasn't surprised at all when I first read this story, because as quiet as it's kept racist door policies have been going on for years. It's also quite pathetic that grown men have to use their position of power to take advantage of vulnerable young men looking for a place to belong.

This is why I always push that QPOC to open their own establishments where we can be comfortable in our own spaces. Otherwise these white owners will continue to believe that they can treat people any kind of way and get away with it.

Also with the skyrocketing rents in New York you would think that these bar owners wouldn't be fixing their face to only allow one group of people into their establishments, because once upon a time (pre Giuliani) clubs thrived by having every race, gender and sexual orientation dancing under the same disco ball.

I guess at the end of the day ignorance knows no bounds.

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