Today in El Diario: Illegal Bronx Dives


Today in El Diario, that newspaper at your bodega you always wondered about…

“Clandestine Lust”

Eighty-seven people burned to death when Happyland, an illicit club in the Bronx, caught fire 21 years ago, reports the Spanish-language daily. But more than two decades after the Happyland tragedy, the deadly, underground bar industry still holds strong in the borough — one dangerous watering hole even features billiards, strippers, and drinks starting at $5, according to the paper. And minors can drink there, too.

This particular Third Avenue establishment — in the cellar of an apartment building — opens at 10 p.m. on the weekend and stays open until 6 or 7 a.m., or until the last customer leaves. The owner of the bar, “Maria,” assures customers that the set-up – which is accessed by a narrow staircase and only has one exit — is completely
firesafe. “Nothing’s going to happen,” she said.

“Monica,” a dancer at the bar who’s been in New York for 2 years, did not say she was concerned about her safety. She did say, though, that she can make a lot of money when the customers get drunk. “The more they drink, the more I get paid.” Once the club fills up, she told the paper, she undresses “to make the men happy.” Monica said she can make anywhere from $300 to $1000 a night. “I only dance and let the men touch me, but there are women who prostitute themselves,” she told El Diario.

Maria and her husband decided to start the bar a little more than a year ago. They said that they don’t operate publicly because they want to make money quickly, according to the paper. “If a girl wants to be flexible, she can make a lot of money here,” he
said. In the event of a fire, the paper notes, customers probably would not be
able to escape.

Community leaders said that the Fire and Police Departments must do more to crack down on these illegal dives. Meanwhile, they fear that these problematic venues have spread to other boroughs.

Officials are concerned that basement bars with cheap drinks and scantily clad women are especially proliferating in Queens, according to El Diario.