party's over

Powerful NYC gay nightlife promoter accused of sexual misconduct in bombshell exposé

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Michael J. Cohen, the prominent New York City gay nightlife promoter and owner of NYC gay bar Motel 23, has been accused by nine men of sexual misconduct ranging from groping to assault. He’s also been accused of discriminatory business practices, including racist door policies.

The allegations outlined in an extensive NBC News report describe Cohen as someone who for years has abused his position in the nightlife scene to pressure young, gay men into sex. Cohen denies all charges.

Several of the men say Cohen promised them job opportunities or access to his exclusive parties in exchange for sex or sending explicit photos.

One of the accusers, Stephen Carlstrom, told NBC that in 2017, when he was 21, “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.”

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.

Others shared stories of being groped and fondled by Cohen at his parties, and one unidentified man said that in 2021, when he was under 21, “Cohen poured him two to three drinks at Motel 23, the popular gay bar Cohen owns in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood,” and that “he soon had trouble keeping his eyes open and his head up.”

“Cohen led him to a private space in the bar” despite his objections, the story said, where he allegedly “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.”

NBC says it corroborated many of the accounts by speaking with “witnesses, partners or friends who said the men had told them of the encounters afterward,” and that “three of the nine men provided screenshots of private conversations they had on social media with Cohen in which Cohen repeatedly asked the men to have sex with him or asked for explicit photos.”

The flood of accusations began after an anonymous Instagram account called @mymotel23reality was created last month.

The account’s creator also spoke to NBC, saying he visited Motel 23 for the first time in June. When he and his friend met Cohen at the door, the man, who is white, says the promoter was going to let him in for free but charge his friend, who is Black, a $250 cover.

“You’re going to want to let us in for free or else I will shut down your club,” the man recalled saying. He said Cohen replied, “I’d like to see you try.”

Several other people said that door staff at the bar, and at Cohen’s events, regularly treated white men better than women and people of color.

While Cohen is the majority owner of Motel 23, he opened it with financial help from director Bryan Singer, who has faced his own allegations of sexual misconduct for years.

Oh, and for the record… the bar is now closed.

UPDATE: After this post was published, Queerty received an emailed statement from Alafair Hall, a spokesperson for Cohen:

“Mr. Cohen adamantly denies these allegations that are clearly the result of an anonymous online smear campaign started by people who could not gain entry into his nightclub. In his years of hosting parties, Mr. Cohen has never engaged in any sexual activity that was not unmistakably consensual. NBC News blatantly ignored evidence contradicting the false claims.”