Gossip Grill Will Remain Open During Repairs
By: Eddie Reynoso, Publisher
San Diego resident, Ryan Habrel has been arrested by the San Diego Police Department as a suspect in an early morning arson fire at Gossip Grill, located at 1220 University Ave. in Hillcrest. The fire was reported at 12:29 a.m. on Friday, Oct. 20.
Witnesses initially reported a small blaze along the west side of the outdoor smoking patio of the bar. A second fire on the eastern non-smoking patio was discovered shortly after the first reports were made. Gossip Grill was closed at the time of the blaze, however some staff were still inside the building and preparing to leave for the night. No one was injured in the blaze, and the San Diego Fire Department and San Diego Police Department responded to the scene shortly after.
LGBTQ San Diego County News spoke with Moe Girton, co-owner of Gossip Grill, who stated that security cameras located throughout the restaurant and patio were working and recorded the suspected arsonist who was positively identified by staff as Habrel. Girton expressed her sadness, shock, and confusion upon identifying Habrel in security footage, and asked this publication to withhold identifying Habrel until SDPD could complete their investigation.
The fire is not a suspected hate crime, reported Girton.
Habrel, a former employee of Urban MO’s, was arrested in Hillcrest just before 2 p.m. on Friday. Staff and local residents who know Habrel believe mental health and homelessness issues could be partly to blame. Habrel is a known transient who has been living on the streets of Hillcrest for several years. Residents and former co-workers describe him as gentle and well mannered.
Urban MO’s is part of a restaurant group that includes Gossip Grill. Staff of the company stated they have no reason to believe animosity from Habrel towards Gossip Grill or any of their sister restaurants had a role in the arson.
The early morning fires were quickly extinguished before they could spread to nearby businesses or into the restaurant and bar. There is no structural damage to the building or patio, furniture was unscathed.
Gossip Grill will be open for regular hours today and through the repair process. Girton said there is minimal damage to the awnings, decorations, outdoor televisions, and security cameras and is thankful that their security system is helping to solve the crime.
“I am so grateful for the quick response by the San Diego Fire Department and the staff at Rich’s who quickly responded,” said Girton. “It is important for the folx in our community to know that our staff is safe, and thankfully damage is minimal. Its nothing that cannot easily be replaced.”
“I am heartbroken that someone tried to intentionally burn it down. I want to thank everyone who has made Gossip Grill their home and continues to support us. Gossip Grill is still and will always be a place for folx to feel safe and be who they are. We will not let this change that.”
According to their website, Gossip Grill is “San Diego’s only inclusive Queer Women’s and LGBTQ+ restaurant and nightclub.” The venue takes pride in “not only being a safe space, but a vibrant, fun place to be free and celebrate who you are.”
Although independently owned and operated, Gossip Grill is connected to other Hillcrest restaurants which include Urban MO’s, Baja Betty’s, Hillcrest Brewing Company, insideOUT, Barrel & Board, and & Bar Hillcrest.
Gossip Grill is one of the last remaining queer women’s bars in the nation. It was featured in The Lesbian Bar Project, a three part mini-series that chronicles the decline of women’s queer spaces from roughly 200 lesbian bars, to now less than 30.
Councilmember Stephen Whitburn, Councilmember Jennifer Campbell, and Councilmember Marni von Wilpert issued a joint statement on Friday afternoon, saying:
“As San Diego City Councilmembers and members of the LGBTQ+ community, we are deeply saddened and concerned about the recent arson at Gossip Grill in Hillcrest. Our hearts go out to the owners, staff, customers, and the entire LGBTQ+ community in Hillcrest who are impacted by this senseless act of destruction. We are thankful to our city firefighters whose quick response limited the damage.
We want to assure the community that we are committed to a thorough investigation into this incident.
We will work closely with local law enforcement and fire department officials to make sure those responsible are held accountable. Arson and violence are crimes that threaten the safety and well-being of all residents, and we will not tolerate such actions in our community.”
Local drag personality, Grotesqua (Justin Augilar), provided LGBTQ San Diego County News with a short video clip of the fire, which has now been viewed over 20,000 times. It shows the fire consuming a small section of the awning, followed by Rich’s Nightclub security rushing to the scene.
Reaction on social media to the fire has been swift with many throughout the community and nation expressing shock, sadness, and support for Gossip Grill.
- “This is scary. Thank goodness no one is injured or dead,” – @WithMyAfroPuffSequal
- “Sending love to the beautiful San Diego queer community.” –@MeowMixPleaseDeliver
- “Our heart goes out to you. Sending love. Glad everyone is safe.” – @SistersPizza
- “So sad to see this. Gossip is where I met my wife and it’s very special to us. I’m happy that no one was hurt and no serious damage was done.” – @AmiDesigner
Some community members also expressed concern over a recent social media post that identified a job applicant who expressed anti-trans views while applying for a position as a security guard for the company.
@anderson.andy27 received several likes on his comment saying “I wouldn’t be surprised if this was the person that was denied as a security guard.”
Gossip Grill recently published the brief but offensive exchange on Instagram, which quickly went viral. The post featured an exchange between staff and a job applicant who was denied employment. A trigger warning was added to their post due to the offensive nature and anti-trans views expressed in the exchange. Gossip Grill wrote on the post that they were sharing the exchange to make “sure these humans don’t make their way into our space.”
LGBTQ San Diego County News has confirmed with Girton that Habrel is not the same individual who expressed anti-trans views as an applicant.
We have reached out to the San Diego Police Department and the San Diego Fire Department for comment on the fire and arrest but has not received a response as of press time.
Anyone with information or who may have seen suspicious activity near Gossip Grill is urged to call San Diego Police or report it to San Diego Crime Stoppers: 1-888-580-8477 | www.sdcrimestoppers.org
If you or someone you know is experiencing homelessness or needs mental health assistance call or visit 211 San Diego at 211sandiego.org.
This article was updated at 2:29pm to reflect the arrest of arson suspect Ryan Habrel.
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-Eddie Reynoso, Publisher