Food News

The Horror Show Over Horror Bar Accusations

The Horror Bar was tagged with the words "Nate Rapist" this past weekend.
The Horror Bar was tagged with the words "Nate Rapist" this past weekend. Special to Westword.
Horror Bar, billed as "a cocktail bar for fans of the strange and unusual," quickly attracted crowds when it opened in March at 5126 East Colfax Avenue. But now it's become its own horror show.

Over the past week, numerous women posted allegations on social media about the bar's owner, Nathan (Nate) Szklarski, accusing him of sexual harassment and predatory behavior. Some of the claims were from local women, others from women in Minneapolis — where Szklarski lived and worked as a tattoo artist before moving to Denver in 2018.

"He ran away from this city instead of coming to grips with the allegations because he sees nothing wrong with what he's doing/done," says Sage Ugstad, a former friend and tattoo client of Szklarski's in Minneapolis. "I find that dangerous, because he crosses so many lines."

Now Szklarski has left the Horror Bar, which is currently dark.

On June 22, a flame war exploded in the Horror Bar's comments section, starting with accusations that Szklarski had sent women unsolicited photos of his penis. The allegations escalated through the day, and at around 7 p.m. that night Horror Bar shared a message across its social media channels, pledging that the bar works hard to promote an inclusive safe space and hold people “responsible for problematic behavior.”
A screenshot of Horror Bar's Instagram comments section before they were seemingly deleted by the business. - SCREENSHOT OF HORROR BAR'S INSTAGRAM COMMENTS SECTION/JACLYN FOGLIO
A screenshot of Horror Bar's Instagram comments section before they were seemingly deleted by the business.
Screenshot of Horror Bar's Instagram comments section/Jaclyn Foglio
The post directed readers to Szklarski’s personal Instagram account "if you want to learn more about the current situation."

On that page, Szklarski simultaneously shared a story on his Instagram page confessing that he had once sent a photo of his genitals to a woman he had never met. Here's that post:
I struggling with these words but want to make light of a time in my life when I was immature, selfish, young, and acting on fear and desperation. Years ago I was careless with my behavior, I thought solely about myself and hurt a lot of people. Years ago a situation came forth in which my collective of this behavior came out and shook my world. I had no idea what to do and out of fear and a promise to myself I left everything I knew and loved and started a new life. I never addressed this situation. I never spoke about what happened. I shoved it into the deepest darkest place in my body and left it there. I left everything and made myself a promise to be a better person every day. I spent time alone, changed careers, broke bad habits, went to counseling when I could afford. There was an incident about seven years ago in which I sent a dick pic to someone I had never met via snapchat. The incindent lead to these people posting it on social media. This got a lot of attention and became a catch all for all the people in the past that I had hurt with my poor judgements. Soon it became its own beast and the level of shame I felt made me retreat. I left my world in search for a place to start new. New friends, new work, new possibilities for growth. I wanted to be a person that I was proud of. Someone that I knew I had in me. I've been putting in an immense amount of work to create this new person and leave the past behind. But one thing that I completely neglected was the people who I hurt. I ran far and fast and created a scab over that part of my life and never made amends with it. So with these messages I want to open my sore back up and take the time to apologize. Apologize for the person I used to be. The person who was drunk all the time. The person who dated multiple woman. The person who was inconsiderate with peoples feeling and took advantage of too much.
Szklarski's apology only inspired more backlash, however. Lauren Lexvold, another former client, posted a comment on the bar's page debunking Szklarski's defense and suggesting that Szklarski was downplaying repetitive behavior to deflect from genuine accountability: "You'll delete this because you're doing damage control, but we didn't forget!"

After an apprenticeship at Monster Ink Tattoo in St. Paul, Szklarski was working at Steady Tattoo and Body Piercing in Minneapolis in 2014 when Lexvold found his tattoo account on Instagram. "I was very impressed by his work, and we had several mutual friends, so I followed him," she recalls. "I was very happy with the tattoo, so I set up another appointment with him. I continued to get tattooed by him and we had a very friendly relationship, so I wasn’t hesitant to share my Snapchat information with him when he asked. Within a few days of giving him my Snapchat handle, I received a photo from him. I opened it and was shocked to see that it was a photo of his penis. I was confused why he sent it to me, as we had not been communicating leading up to the photo. I was ashamed, embarrassed and spent the rest of the day wondering why he would send me something like that and wondered if I had done something to suggest I was open to that kind of a conversation."

Alex Levine, Steady Tattoo shop owner and Szklarski's supervisor there, says another female client told him a similar story in 2016. "I cut ties with Nate over a credible allegation that he sent an unsolicited video of himself while naked to a client whom he had never met in person but had established a working relationship with online," explains Levine.

Szklarski moved on to Saint Sabrina's Tattoo & Piercing; after he left there in 2018, he landed at Black Coffin Tattoo, co-owned by Szklarski's former mentor at Monster, Garrett Rautio.

Szklarski left after about a few weeks at Black Coffin Tattoo. "There were some allegations that were being made against him, and he told me, 'I think it's about time that I go,' and I said 'Yeah, I think maybe you're right,'" Rautio recalls.

Szklarski turned up in Denver. Amy McClain began dating Szklarski in January 2020 after meeting him on the dating app Hinge. "He held on to tattoo equipment but never had a good answer for why he didn't tattoo here," she recalls. "Never had a good answer for leaving Minnesota in the first place." Szklarski moved in with McClain that April, after losing his bartending job due to the pandemic; she says she kicked him out of her house in August after receiving a message about his past.

"A woman on Instagram reached out and sent me screenshots of extremely inappropriate/sexual things he sent to her," McClain recalls. "It seems that his tendency is to prey on extremely empathetic people. By the end of the relationship, I had zero self-esteem."
The Horror Bar theme was spooky. - NATE SZKLARSKI
The Horror Bar theme was spooky.
Nate Szklarski
Szklarski went on to open Horror Bar after hosting several successful pop-up events in the space. But in the wake of the accusations, some scheduled acts canceled their events at Horror Bar. "We have removed all support from Horror Bar and notified all other artists and staff," said Denver-based drag queen Transwitch, who was scheduled to perform there on Saturday, June 26.

Joshua Schmitz, who ran Bellwether in the space now occupied by Horror Bar, has the lease on the address, and says he's figuring out what to do with Horror Bar, which is closed until further notice.

"Emotions are really high right now," says Schmitz. "Nate is currently pursuing defamation of character and doxing cases against some of the people and allegations. Definitely not easy on anyone involved. It’s been an absolute tornado, to say the least. Horror Bar was literally built for the people who felt marginalized, and aimed to give them a second home. We want nothing more than to restore that hope and faith and be that place again."

Reached by phone, Szklarski said he is seeking legal representation to help with a lawsuit, but declined to make any other comments about the allegations.

In the meantime, all posts and comments related to any accusations against Szklarski have been deleted from the Horror Bar social media sites, but not before many were saved in screenshots. Szklarski has also switched his Instagram account to private, with a self-proclaimed “Northwood Phantom” label above the words “INHERENTLY EVIL. A VILLAIN.”

“I think it got to a point where he had burned all of his bridges in Minneapolis and was maybe looking for a new start," says Levine. “I don’t want to persecute the guy, but this is not nothing."
KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Hilal is an alumni of Metropolitan State University of Denver with a degree in political science. She's written for Denver Life Magazine and 303 Magazine, and is the current cannabis intern for Westword.
Contact: Hilal Bahcetepe