CHELSEA — City officials inspecting popular Chelsea nightclub Marquee on a recent Saturday night found a death trap of overcrowding, blocked fire exits and dangerous, illegally-stored explosive gases, sources said.
Inspectors from the Department of Buildings, the FDNY and the State Liquor Authority turned up at Marquee, at 289 10th Ave., on Feb. 2 to find roughly 870 people there — nearly double the club's capacity.
The club's Place of Assembly Certificate of Operation — which expired in December — allowed just over 500 partiers, according to a spokesman for the mayor's office.
The city issued the club a host of violations and plans to bring it to court, officials said.
A source described the potential danger at the club as similar to Brazilian nightclub Kiss, where a fire, combined with overcrowding and a lack of emergency exits, killed 238 people in January.
Without a valid assembly license, the club was only allowed to have 74 people inside, so inspectors ordered most patrons out, said an official with the Mayor's Office of Special Enforcement, which coordinated the inspection.
According to officials, inspectors found that the front door was blocked off by crowds and some of the fire exits were blocked off by racks holding hundreds of flammable coats.
Access to the front door exit was blocked as well, officials said.
Inspectors also found a large amount of illegally stored propane and 60 gallons of liquid nitrogen in the club's rear, right next to another emergency exit.
According to one official with the mayor's office, the gases had the potential to create a deadly chain reaction if there was a fire — the propane could explode and the liquid nitrogen could suck the oxygen out of the club, choking patrons.
The club was issued several violations for the overcrowding and blocking fire exits. The Department of Buildings issued four violations for work without a permit and for operating without a proper assembly license, a spokeswoman said.
Department of Buildings inspectors also issued the club a stop-work order after finding that owners had changed the layout of the club and moved fire exits without informing the city.
The club's owners did not respond to requests for comment, but Marquee's website suggested that future parties were still being planned.
The club was issued a new public assembly permit on Feb. 6, officials said, allowing them to have up to 597 partiers at one time. Marquee still advertises itself as being able to hold up to 800 guests.
This is not the first time Marquee has gotten in trouble for not having proper licenses. The club was cited in 2007 for not having a public assembly permit and was fined $250 for the violation, according to Department of Buildings records.
Rob Bookman, an attorney for many nightclubs around the city and counsel to the New York Nightlife Association, said the city has been issuing a lot of violations to venues without proper assembly permits over the last few months, but complained that the process of renewing one was cumbersome to owners.
"It usually takes six to nine months to get an annual public assembly license renewed because you have to deal with both the Fire Department and the Department of Buildings," he said.
"It's a labyrinth."