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Champion of City's Voguing Scene Found Strangled in UWS Home, Police Say

By  Trevor Kapp Murray Weiss Maya Rajamani and Aidan Gardiner | January 6, 2017 8:51am | Updated on January 9, 2017 8:56am

 Savyon Zabar, seen here beside Rihanna, was found dead in his West 81st Street apartment, police said.
Savyon Zabar, seen here beside Rihanna, was found dead in his West 81st Street apartment, police said.
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Facebook/Savyon Zabar

UPPER WEST SIDE — A Chelsea club operator at the center of the Vogue dancing scene was found strangled to death in his Upper West Side apartment Wednesday morning, friends and NYPD officials said.

Savyon Zabar, 54, who police initially identified as Zabary Savyon, was discovered dead in his home at 155 W. 81st St., near Columbus Avenue, about 10:30 a.m., police said.

155 W. 81st St.
Zabar was found dead in his apartment at 155 W. 81st St., police said. (DNAinfo/Trevor Kapp)

There had been no arrests as of Friday morning and the circumstances of his death weren't immediately clear. There were no signs of forced entry and nothing was taken from the apartment, sources said.

Investigators were questioning Zabar's roommate Friday morning, sources said.

Zabar, who also went by the nickname "Big Ben," was a prominent figure in the Chelsea gay club scene with connections to XL and New Esquelita, according to his friends.

"He was really well known," said Carlos Arenas, 34, who used to work security at one of Zabar's clubs.

"The club life was his passion. He was a big staple in the gay community. That was his thing, he was an entertainer."

Zabar managed XL and New Esquelita, which were focal points of the Voguing community, hosting weekly Vogue Knights.

"He knew a lot of people. He ran gay clubs, straight clubs and had partnerships all over the city," Arenas added.

Those who knew him said he was indefatigable organizer.

“It amazed me, the energy he had," said John Blair, the co-owner of another bar who often crossed paths with Zabar.

"He would do three or four or five parties a week. That takes a lot of work.

"He was a great promoter [...] He brought the gay, Spanish, Latino and black crowd in."

Zabar was generous to his friends and hired Arenas when his father, the superintendent of Zabar's apartment building, asked him for a favor, Arenas said.

"He was a really good dude," he explained.

"I worked with him for a while. If he got to know you, he made sure you were fine and not missing anything. He'd get you food, drinks, cigarettes — anything you wanted."

Neighbors remembered him dressing all in black and always having a chauffeur waiting outside.

Friends took to social media to share their memories of Zabar.

In 2012, Zabar went to bat for New Esquelita when the state threatened to revoke its liquor license, according to the Daily News.

He said the state was trying to oust the many young minority men who frequented the club from the Times Square area.

“Minorities are no longer welcome on West 39th Street as they do not fit into the gentrification plans of the city,” Zabar said at the time.

Friends set up a GoFundMe page after his death, hoping to raise money for commemorative banners, T-shirts and souvenirs, according to Antonio "Pokey" Baez, who created the page.

"We [are] all going to remember him as a good person because he cared for a lot of us, even though he didn't say it, he did," Baez wrote.