Savyon Zabar, the owner of the now-closed New York City Latin gay bar Escuelita, was found strangled to death in his Upper West Side apartment on January 4. The 54-year-old Zabar shared pictures of himself with celebrities on his Facebook page, including singer Rihanna.
Zabar also managed the XL club, and his venues hosted the Vogue Knights parties.
Here’s a look at Zabar’s life and death.
1. Zabar’s Roommate Found Him Dead in His Apartment on the Morning of January 4
Police told WABC that Zabar’s body was found by his roommate Wednesday morning. The roommate called 911 just before 10:30 a.m. When emergency crews arrived on the scene at the West 81st Street apartment building, they pronounced him dead.
WABC reports that the autopsy revealed that he had “significant deep tissue hemorrhaging consistent with strangulation and his death was ruled a homicide.”
2. Police Declared His Death a Homicide, But There’s Been no Arrests
Police declared Zabar’s death a homicide on January 6, The New York Daily News reports. However, WABC notes that police haven’t made any arrests.
WABC also notes that there was no forced entry and nothing was stolen from his apartment.
3. The Same Building Was Burglarized in April 2016 & a ‘Club Owner’ Was a Reported Victim
In April 2016, PIX11 reported that the same building Zabar lived in was burglarized by a pair of thieves.
According to PIX11, the thieves stole two iPads, a cell phone and cash from a “club owner” who was 53 years old. Although this does fit Zabar’s description, police did not identify him as the victim.
Carlos Arenas, the building’s super, told PIX11 in April that the victim had been robbed in the past.
4. Zabar’s Club, Escuelita, Closed in February After 19 Years of Business
Zabar had owned the Escuelita, a gay bar and nightclub in Midtown Manhattan, for 19 years.
According to a Paper Magazine retrospective on the club, it once hosted a shot starring Lady Bunny that attracted a New York Times theater critic in 2011. The magazine notes that the club was located in a space that used to be a language school.
Zabar’s club became so popular that Rihanna once visited. In September 2014, the club even advertised a special appearance by Ariana Grande.
The New York Daily News notes that the club struggled to get a liquor license in 2012. The state Liquor Authority tried to strip them of their license after a previous manager punched a patron.
Zabar also managed the XL nightclub, which became the home of Vogue Knights parties after Escuelita shut down. The last party was held on December 22, 2016.
5. Zabar’s Nickname Among Friends Was ‘Big Ben’
Friends told DNAinfo that Zabar was affectionately known by his friends as “Big Ben.”
“He was really well known,” Carlos Arenas, who worked security for Zabar, told DNAinfo. “The club life was his passion. He was a big staple in the gay community. That was his thing, he was an entertainer.”
Friends also told WABC that Zabar was an openly gay “icon in NYC nightlife.”
Other friends of Zabar took to Facebook to share their condolences and memories of the man they called “Big Ben.”