Owner of popular New York gay bar Motel 23 faces sexual misconduct allegations dating back a decade

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

The last thing the man remembers is swallowing Cohen’s hands before waking up the next morning alone on the edge of a Manhattan street, sandwiched between two parked cars, he said.

Along with other men interviewed by NBC News, he spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of repercussions from accusing someone of Cohen’s stature. In this and other cases, NBC News has withheld some details about the allegations to protect anonymity.

Since July, when an anonymous Instagram account began posting allegations about Motel 23, NBC News has spoken to 45 people who said they knew or interacted with Cohen in New York or Los Angeles. last twenty years. Nine of the men accused Cohen, 45, of unwanted sexual behavior. This included five people who said that when they were in their late teens or early 20s and wanted a sense of the gay community, Cohen grabbed their genitals or buttocks at parties he hosted or at Motel 23.

Six of the nine accusers said that because they were newly out of the closet and didn’t know many queer people when the encounters happened, they assumed the incidents were normal within the gay community, even though they upset at the time. .

Many of Cohen’s accusers said that access to New York’s gay bars and parties, especially for those under 21, meant so much to them that they were willing to put up with Cohen’s advances. The five men who Cohen said groped them said that, although they were disappointed and tried to maneuver away from him, they did not tell him to stop, because they did not want to lose their connection to the gay nightlife. It wasn’t just about having fun nights out with friends — it was about the sense of freedom and acceptance they felt when they were surrounded by other gay people, in some cases for the first time in their lives, they said. And Cohen held the keys to that life, his accusers said.

Cohen declined requests for an interview with NBC News. In a written response to email questions, his spokesman Alafair Hall wrote: “Mr. Cohen vehemently denies allegations that he molested, sexually assaulted, forcibly kissed or solicited anyone for sex.” Hall added: “During his years as a party host, Mr. Cohen has never engaged in any sexual activity that was not irrevocably consensual. He takes these allegations seriously.”

In seven of the nine cases, NBC News spoke with witnesses, associates or friends who said the men told them about the subsequent meetings. Three of the nine men provided screenshots of private social media conversations they had with Cohen in which Cohen repeatedly asked the men to have sex with him or asked for revealing photos, the screenshots show.

None of Cohen’s accusers, who were all in their late teens to mid-20s at the time of the incidents, went to the police. Almost all said they did not realize the seriousness of the alleged encounters until months, and in some cases years, later.

Hall described Cohen as “a proud gay man with no shame about his social media activity, where he asked grown men to send him sexual pictures, including those of their genitals. But he never pressured men to have sex.”

Cohen, the majority owner of Motel 23, has connections to high-profile members of the LGBTQ community in New York and beyond. He opened the bar with the financial backing of four influential investors: Bryan Singer, the famous filmmaker who has been separately accused for years of sexual misconduct, which he denies; Jeff Davis, the Hollywood writer and producer best known for creating the TV series “Criminal Minds” and “Teen Wolf”; Anthony Watson, a banking executive and former board member of the LGBTQ media advocacy group GLAAD; and financier Adam Press, a former board member of the queer advocacy organization Freedom to Marry.

Paperwork submitted to the state in December 2021 shows that Press is no longer an investor in Motel 23. A representative for Watson provided NBC News with paperwork dated November 2021 that shows he sold his stake in Motel 23 to Cohen, although that change has not yet been reflected. in state documents, a representative of the State Liquor Authority said this week. Spokesmen for Watson, Press and Singer declined to comment; An agent for Davis did not respond to requests for comment.

There is no indication they knew about the misconduct allegations against Cohen and Motel 23 that NBC News reported.

Quiet allegations erupt into public view

Cohen hosted gay parties at New York’s glamorous 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 famous gay celebrities, including British Olympic gold medalist Tom Daley, actor Neil Patrick Harris and rapper Lil Nas X, have posed for photos with Cohen or appeared in present at Motel 23. Reps for Daley, Harris and Lil Nas X did not respond to requests for comment.

“He was known as an older guy who liked the younger guys,” said Brita Filter, star of “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” who has been performing in New York City gay bars for more than eight years. “If you’re a very good-looking young white boy, Michael’s going to get into you. On the same subject : Asking gay men to be careful is not homophobia.” Filter said she noticed young men attend Cohen’s parties; she did not observe Cohen harming anyone.

After Cohen opened Motel 23 in 2020, he was often found at the front door, handpicking which well-dressed young men would and would not gain entry. With its plush cocktail lounge and impressive dance floor, the dimly lit bar resembled the nightclubs of Manhattan’s Meatpacking District and their exclusive allure.

The bar, and Cohen’s parties elsewhere, were a magnet for the under-21 set — especially those with Cohen’s approval, said more than two dozen people who attended the bar and parties.

A representative for Goldbar declined to comment. A spokesperson for PHD Rooftop Lounge and Fishbowl did not comment.

A representative for Cohen disputed that Motel 23 has a reputation for allowing underage bargoers and said it is common for people under 21 to use fake IDs to get into parties and bars.

Allegations about Cohen’s behavior among gay New York men came into the public eye in early July, when a slew of allegations about Motel 23 were posted on an anonymous Instagram account.

The man behind the account, “mymotel23reality,” who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he went to Motel 23 for the first time in June. At the door, the man, who said he had never met Cohen before and does not frequent New York’s gay nightlife scene, said Cohen was going to let him in for free, but he would charge $250 on his friend, who is Black, for admission.

“You’re going to want to let us in for free or I’m going to close your club,” the white man said, telling Cohen.

He recalled Cohen responding, “I want to see you try.”

Two weeks later, the man created “mymotel23reality.” Within days, he had received a flood of messages with accusations, he said.

The anonymous claims put together by the account allege that the owner of Motel 23 turned gay parties and bars, which some see as quieter spaces, into toxic environments where young men were subjected to unwanted sexual advances. (NBC News did not verify the claims made on the anonymous Instagram account, which does not mention Cohen, or anyone else, by name.)

The account also alleged that Motel 23 door staff sometimes treated white men and women of color differently, including charging them more to enter.

NBC News spoke to eight people, including the creator of the Instagram account, who say they experienced or saw Cohen or other staff members doing this at Motel 23.

Joseph Lucido, 27, who is Asian-American but describes himself as “white-passed,” said he went to Motel 23 with an Asian-American friend in February. His friend approached the door before him, he said, and the bouncer told his friend the bar was “already full,” Lucido said. But when Lucido emerged a few minutes later, with his friend behind him, they were both admitted, he said.

Brittany Bennett, 31, said she was told by the bar’s door staff last spring that she would have to pay a $150 cover to get in, and that the three friends she was with – all gay men – could get in for free free

“It’s so crazy that any discrimination is happening at a gay bar,” she said. “It was very broken and confusing.”

Hall, Cohen’s spokesman, denied that the bar treated patrons differently based on their race or gender, adding that “the allegations from the anonymous site are false.”

In a statement provided by Cohen’s representatives, African American activist and DJ Joshua Zeke Thomas said he has worked with Cohen for nearly 10 years and “has never seen any evidence of racial bias or inappropriate behavior.” Thomas declined to be interviewed by NBC News.

On July 28, just over three weeks after the anonymous Instagram account was launched, Motel 23 announced on its own Instagram page that it would be temporarily closing for renovations. In the weeks that followed, his website and social media accounts were taken down.

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Seeking New York newcomers 

Long before he opened Motel 23, Cohen had a knack for connecting with young gay men new to New York City, reaching out to them within weeks of their arrival, five men said. See the article : CDC officials warn of gay and bisexual men as monkeypox spreads in community.

T., who spoke on the condition that he be identified only by his first initial, said he had heard from Cohen even earlier. He said Cohen first contacted him on Facebook during his senior year of high school in 2013. T., who grew up in New Jersey, was preparing to attend Pace University and said there were no mutual friends. with Cohen at the time.

“I think he looked at my Facebook photos and had an inkling like, ‘Oh, he must be gay,'” said T., who was 17 at the time. “He knew I was gay before I knew I was gay. “

T., who no longer has a copy of the conversation, said he received Cohen’s first Facebook message while sitting in his high school cafeteria.

“You don’t know me yet, but you will,” T. Cohen said.

A representative for Cohen said that as a party promoter, he contacted about 100 strangers each week to invite them to clubs, but did not seek out high school students for his parties.

Later, the man who said Cohen touched his genitals at Motel 23 was also unfamiliar with New York when he first interacted with Cohen. He was under 21 and visiting the city in 2021 when he went to Motel 23, he said, an account confirmed by two friends who were with him that night.

Once inside, he said Cohen approached him and offered to get him a drink.

“He told me people like me shouldn’t have to pay for their drinks in New York,” the man told Cohen.

Cohen poured what the man believed was vodka soda, but nothing for himself, the man said. Shortly after drinking two or three of Cohen’s mixed drinks — having had two drinks in the previous four hours — the man said he was very drunk.

“It was just like a really weird feeling that I’ve never experienced,” the man said. “I’ve been very drunk before, but I’ve never struggled to keep my eyes open or my muscles feel so tired that I just want to lay.”

Three other men who spoke to NBC News described feeling similarly overwhelmed after Cohen served them drinks at parties he hosted at New York bars in 2018 and 2019. All said it was unlike anything they had ever felt while drinking alcohol and suspected. they had given drugs.

The man who visited Motel 23 in 2021 said Cohen escorted him to a private space at the bar, where he laid down on a couch or small bed lit with a red light. He was struggling to stay awake when Cohen removed his pants and began to pull on him, he said. He recalled saying “no” and “I don’t even want to do this,” as he tried to swallow Cohen’s hands.

“I obviously didn’t want to get involved in that,” said the man.

Hall, Cohen’s spokesman, said the man’s allegations, as well as the reports from the other men suspected of drug possession, are “absolutely false.”

After he blacked out and woke up outside on the stone, the man said, he didn’t immediately tell anyone what happened to him. He didn’t want to play down his seriousness, and he wanted to give Cohen the benefit of the doubt, he said.

“I thought that if I told people that their version of me was in their head as a weak person who was dumb and put themselves in this situation that this happened to them,” the man said. “For me, I didn’t want to process it.”

In the months that followed, the man said, Cohen messaged him repeatedly on social media, and while this made the man uncomfortable, he said he initially kept the conversation going because he saw Cohen as a person powerful.

“I was really afraid that I would be ruining a scene for myself,” said the man. “To me, he was clearly a prominent figure in New York’s gay nightlife.”

After launching the anonymous Instagram account, the man told his friends who were with him that night about what he said Cohen did, the friends confirmed to NBC News.

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From New York to L.A. 

Cohen went to high school in Marlboro, New Jersey, about an hour southwest of New York City. See the article : When monkeypox strikes gay men, officials debate warnings about limiting partners. In 2000 he graduated from Ohio State University with a bachelor’s degree.

In 2003, he launched MJC Entertainment, a talent management company, in New York. The most notable client of the business was the actor and comedian Daniel Franzese, known as Damian in the movie “Mean Girls”.

A representative for Cohen said he and Franzese were friends but their relationship was strained, and Franzese told NBC News, “I don’t recommend working with him,” and declined to comment further.

In 2005, Cohen moved his talent management business to Los Angeles to be closer to Hollywood, according to two people familiar with his operations at the time. Records show Cohen received his California real estate license that Christmas.

At a party in Los Angeles in 2006, an actress in her early 20s who worked with Cohen alleges that Cohen took him into a bedroom, jumped on top of him and “tried to stick his tongue down my throat, ” said the actor. . The actor, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he was able to push Cohen away from him and leave the room.

“There was nothing, absolutely nothing mutual, nothing on my end to make him think it was appropriate, period,” the actor said. “I would imagine worse things have happened from him, so I consider myself lucky.”

Hall said the actor’s allegation was “absolutely false”.

The actor said he ended his business relationship with Cohen in the days after the encounter.

He said Cohen “didn’t even recognize that anything bad happened.” He was like, ‘I’m not even a manager anymore, don’t worry about it, I’m doing real estate now and I’m moving back to New York.'”

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Cohen bought a condo in Tribeca in 2007 and returned to New York. Soon he began to transfer his career into the night life.

He started hosting parties at Phoenix Bar, a popular gay venue in the East Village. (The owner, Brenda Breathnach, said Phoenix staff removed the door and did not allow anyone under the age of 21 to enter; she declined to comment on the misconduct allegations against Cohen.) About 2014 Cohen was promoting exclusive events at trendier. , pricier places, a list that eventually included Fishbowl, PHD Rooftop, Goldbar, Beauty & Essex and The Wu Room. Cohen’s parties were known as a guaranteed weekly spot with a large crowd of mostly bright young men who were well dressed and ready to dance.

Late one summer evening in 2015, Battersby was drawn into that world.

That night, a few days after arriving in the city to attend New York University, Battersby, then 19, was walking through Little Italy. As he passed Goldbar, a lounge on Broome Street, he said Cohen called him.

“He was like, ‘Hey, palm tree!’ – because I was wearing a palm tree shirt – ‘You’re gay?’ and I said ‘Yeah,'” Battersby, now 26, recalled. “He’s like ‘Come on in.’ and he was like, ‘Let me introduce you to some kids who are your age.'”

Inside, Cohen, then 38, introduced Battersby to a large group of other young gay men — the kind of community he said he spent most of his teenage years looking forward to. But throughout the evening, Battersby said Cohen repeatedly stuck his hands up Battersby’s pants without her consent, groping her genitals and buttocks.

Since October, Guerrilla Gay Bar York has gone to Renaissance Social Club, Handsome Cab and Holy Hound.

How can I go to a gay bar alone?

9 Ways to Have Fun While Going Out to Singles Gay Bars

  • 9 Ways to Have Fun While Going Out to Singles Gay Bars. …
  • Wear something exciting. …
  • Pull ups are the easiest when going out alone. …
  • Buy someone a drink (if you can afford it) …
  • Go during Happy Hour. …
  • Smile when people look at you. …
  • Live by the three second rule.

How do you take guys at the gay bar? Be simple and direct. There is no need to dance around the subject or add much to it. Ask him out for coffee, ask him to dance. Make sure you keep talking when you have his number so you don’t give him the wrong impression.

What do you wear to a gay bar?

Look Hot, Wear Pants Comfort is the key to looking hot. If you feel good, you’ll look good, and you’ll generally have a better time. If you need help from your friends to pick something, take care of it between one week and five hours before the party. Oh, and wear pants.

What do females wear to the bar?

Clubs tend to be a bit dressier, asking for nice skirts, dresses and pants. Although bars are more casual and simple, so informal clothing is usually worn. That’s why jeans are the choice for many bar-goers, while club outfits for women tend to be dressier and ultra-feminine.

What do you wear to a bar dress code?

Dress & Smart Casual This generally means that if you’re not wearing nice, trendy-looking shoes, you’re not going to get in. For the men pants, khakis, dark jeans without tears or holes, and a nice shirt without any sports jerseys or hoodies and nice leather or trendy shoes. For women it means a dressy skirt or pants.

What should a woman wear to a gay bar?

Clubs are known to get very hot, and while everyone is having a great time there is often little ventilation. The answer is to keep things cool, light and simple. The threads you’ll need are pieces like denim shirts, linen shirts, fitted crew neck tees and anything that’s a single layer.

Is it okay to go to gay bar alone?

If you enjoy having a few drinks, I would definitely recommend doing that when you go out to bars alone. (Just don’t be crazy!) The night isn’t a failure if you don’t meet someone or have the time of your life.

What is the most famous gay bar?

The Stonewall Inn has to sit at the top of any list of the most influential gay bars in history. The Stonewall raid in the early hours of June 28, 1969 (pictured), is the before and after marker in gay history. Before Stonewall, gay people were submissive and victimized; after Stonewall, they were strong and defiant.

What is the name of the gay area in Fort Lauderdale?

Wilton Manors is known as a gay village. Wilton Manors ranks 2nd in the US for its percentage of gay couples as a percentage of the total population, with 140 gay couples per 1,000 residents or 1,600 people or 14% of residents. The Fort Lauderdale area ranks 4th in metro areas (per capita).

What is the gay district in Fort Lauderdale? Fort Lauderdale’s beaches stretch for two miles, but Sebastian Street Beach is considered the vibrant heart of LGBTQ sun seekers. Look for the Sebastian Street signpost across from the Ritz-Carlton. For a low-key option, Terramar Street Beach at Terramar Street and A1A is a quieter spot in the sun.

What is Wilton Manors known for?

The City of Wilton Manors has gained a reputation as a destination for the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community. The City regularly partners with LGBT organizations and is the Pride Center at Equality Park, Broward County’s gay and lesbian community center.

Is Wilton Manors a good neighborhood?

Wilton Manors is in Broward County and is one of the best places to live in Florida. Living in Wilton Manors offers residents an urban feel and most residents own their homes. In Wilton Manors there are many bars, restaurants, coffee shops, and parks.

Who is Wilton Manors named after?

Willingham named Wilton Manors in 1925. There are several stories. There is one story that Wilton was an ancient British branch of the Willinghams, of Macon, Georgia. There is another story that the maiden name of Willingham’s wife was Wilton.

Is Wilton Manors family friendly?

But there’s more to Wilton Manors than food and shops. There are nearly a dozen family-friendly parks, a weekend farmer’s market near city hall, and a nature trail that winds through a mangrove-lined preserve on an elevated boardwalk, offering a spectacular view of primordial Florida.

What is the gay area of Miami called?

Miami Beach is considered by many to be a Gay Mecca because of how LGBTQ friendly the city is and how many events the city offers to the public. Miami Beach has many gay bars and gay-specific events, and five service and resource organizations.

What is the gay area in Miami?

South Beach, or SoBe, is the heart of gay Miami. The beach is flanked by the ocean on one side and a rainbow of pastel-colored hotels, restaurants and bars on the other.

What street is gay beach in Miami?

Put down. The gay beach is located at 12th Street and Ocean Drive. It is not too difficult to find, with the rainbow flags marking the territory between two chair rental spots. The gay beach is mostly a men’s hangout, but you’ll find lesbians and straights camping out here too.

Is Wynwood Miami gay area?

But really: There’s a lot more to Miami than South Beach, and you won’t miss out if you stick to one side of the bay. The Design District, aka Wynwood, is a terrifying maze of decaying Deco buildings and warehouses. It’s not very gay but it’s pretty gay-friendly.

Where is the gay community in Fort Lauderdale?

Fort Lauderdale’s gay district Fort Lauderdale’s main gay neighborhood is located in Wilton Manors, located about a 15-minute drive inland from the beach. Wilton Manors spans several blocks with many gay bars, clubs, boutique gay shops, cafes and restaurants.

Where is the gay scene in Florida?

Gay Scene in Florida A particularly inclusive atmosphere prevails in South Florida – LGBT nightlife scenes thrive in Miami Beach, Fort Lauderdale, Palm Beach, Singer Island, Destin, Cape Coral, Fort Myers, and Key West.

Where is the gay section of Fort Lauderdale beach?

Sebastian street beach is Fort Lauderdale’s gay beach. The beach stretches along the coast and is filled with a soft, sandy surface in contrast to the clear blue waters. The beach is located on the coast off Sebastian Street, a short walk away from the Ritz Carlton.

What is the gay capital of the world?

San Francisco is the city ruled by the love and celebration of diversity. Which helps to explain why the city has been called the center of the LGBTQ community around the world.

Which cities have the highest gay populations? The New York metro area (New York-Newark-Jersey City) has the highest population of LGBT adults of any metro area. The San Francisco metro area (San Francisco-Oakland-Berkeley) has the highest percentage of LGBT adults of any metro area.

What are the top 5 gayest cities?

LGBT percentage classCityPercentage of the city’s population
1San Francisco15.4%

What is the world’s gayest city?

San Francisco is often called the “gay capital of the world” for its tolerant culture and vibrant scene.

Where is the largest gay club in the world?

LocationChapinero, Bogotá, Colombia
Coordinates4.645078707000851°N 74.0635279678298°W
OpenFebruary 27, 2002

What is the most famous gay bar? The Stonewall Inn has to sit at the top of any list of the most influential gay bars in history. The Stonewall raid in the early hours of June 28, 1969 (pictured), is the before and after marker in gay history. Before Stonewall, gay people were submissive and victimized; after Stonewall, they were strong and defiant.

Where are the most gay clubs?

Among the most famous gay villages are New York City’s Greenwich Village, Hell’s Kitchen, and the Chelsea neighborhoods in Manhattan; Fire Island and The Hamptons on Long Island; Asbury Park, Lambertville, and Maplewood in New Jersey; Boston’s South End, Jamaica Plain, and Provincetown, Massachusetts; Philadelphia…

What city is the gay capital?

San Francisco is often called the “gay capital of the world” for its tolerant culture and vibrant scene.

What city has the most gay pride?

As of June 2019, the NYC Pride March in New York is consistently the largest pride parade in North America, with 2.1 million people attending in 2015 and 2.5 million in 2016; in 2018, attendance was estimated at around two million.