Savyon Zabar

Owner of NYC Latin Gay Club Escuelita Found Strangled to Death

Well-known party promoter and former gay club owner Savyon Zabar, nicknamed Big Ben, was found strangled to death in his Upper West Side apartment earlier this week.

The Daily News reports:

A roommate found the 400-pound body of 54-year-old Savyon Zabar on a bed in their fourth-floor apartment on W. 81st St. near Amsterdam Ave. on the Upper West Side about 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, police said. On Friday, police declared his death a homicide.

Zabar, who owned and managed the now-defunct popular Latin gay club Escuelita, died from strangulation and heavy internal bleeding, according to police sources.

Escuelita was an extremely popular gay nightlife destination in Midtown Manhattan. It was the hottest Latin-flavored club outside of the Bronx and Queens for years. After opening in 1996, it became the stomping grounds of many notable queer New Yorkers, like Lady Bunny and Michael Musto.

Michael Musto remembered the hot spot after its closing earlier last year:

Ay, los memories! I spent quite a few New Year’s Eves there, loving the old-school drag revue hosted by fabulous Angel Sheridan and starring Lady Catiria, Jessica Foxx, and so many other Escuelita divas. Many of them did not long to blend in with mainstream society, but instead were huge-featured Times Square showgals that were larger than life in their lips, their boobs, and their persona. And they could lipsynch to a T — with arm gestures galore — whether it was to an old-style Latin diva or a current pop songstress, as the crowd cheered, drank, and drank some more. While other people went to four-star restaurants and hoity toity house parties for New Year’s, I couldn’t imagine going anywhere other than Escuelita for the trans fun and fabulousness. The confetti was heartfelt.

The gogo boys were equally large in their parts, and added spice to the place, which was like a real-life telenovela, full of spirit and passion. The dance floor was particularly lively, without one jot of pretension or exclusivity. I always felt welcome and delighted to dance a cha-cha to Celia Cruz or a salsa to Mariah Carey.

After the club’s closing, Big Ben went on to promote parties at XL and Stage 48 with Yamil X and other partners. He also worked with New York party promoting legends John Blair and Beto Suter for a brief period.

Lady Bunny, who was close with Big Ben, posted this to her Facebook.

Police have yet to name any suspects.