Arson Attacks in Chelsea Shock Community




Fire at LouLou’s restaurant in Chelsea. Photo by Colin Stewart


Since June, multiple fires have been set across Chelsea, destroying outdoor dining spaces and leaving piles of smoldering debris and trash on sidewalks. Two men who police say went on separate rampages have been caught.

Patrick Glynn, 49, was arrested in June for setting a dozen fires across Chelsea and the East Side of Manhattan, while Alex Blodgett, 39, was caught after setting 13 fires up and down Eighth Avenue in the early morning hours of August 16, according to the New York City Fire Department. Although no injuries were reported, some Chelsea restaurants were damaged, and local residents and business owners are still waiting for answers.

While the outdoor dining spaces targeted in Glynn’s arson spree came out mostly unscathed, a restaurant Blodgett targeted was not as lucky. LouLou Petit Bistro, located at 176 Eighth Ave., went up in flames, said Colin Stewart, who owns Jungle Bird bar located next door and Cooper’s Craft & Kitchen across the street from LouLou’s.

“The flames were 20 feet high, above the apex of the building. The material that caught on fire and the heat made it so flammable that it went up like a tinderbox,” said Stewart, who caught Blodgett in the act.

“Ninety-nine times out of 100 when I go to do Sunday night paperwork, I go to Cooper’s,” he said. “It was a weird coincidence that I chose to go to Jungle Bird that night. If I was in Cooper’s I would have been in the basement across the street from LouLou’s and would not have seen the fire.”

Stewart said when he was walking into Jungle Bird at 4 a.m. on August 16, he saw Blodgett at the outdoor café of LouLou’s and assumed he was a bartender. Suddenly, he heard crackling and turned to find Blodgett lighting foliage on fire. Stewart said he screamed and Blodgett walked away. After putting the fire out with his foot, Stewart said he walked toward Blodgett, who was on the corner of West 19th Street. He called out to him again, but Blodgett “started laughing hysterically into the air,” said Stewart, who then realized Blodgett had set fire to another area of the café. There was nothing left to do at that point except call the fire brigade, said Stewart, adding that the FDNY arrived quickly, tackling the flames within minutes.

Mathias Van Leyden, owner of LouLou’s Petit Bistro, received a phone call and a video of his restaurant on fire from his overnight cleaner.

“Alex Blodgett was walking around with lighter fluid lighting up anything he could. He clearly was looking for attention, and we were just caught in the crossfires of it,” said Van Leyden. Because of the fire department’s fast response, the inside of LouLou’s remained intact and Jungle Bird didn’t sustain any surface damage, said Stewart.

According to a local news report from Fox 5 NY, Blodgett was charged with three counts each of arson, criminal mischief and reckless endangerment. Glynn was charged with two counts of arson in the second degree, one count of criminal mischief in the fourth degree and seven counts of arson in the fifth degree, according to the FDNY.

The fire department did not respond to questions about the fire at LouLou’s or a possible connection between the two arson cases.

“There has been a very clear shift in danger within the past five years,” said Eduardo Francis, a building manager in Chelsea since 2016. “You can tell people are more fearful in Chelsea, and how could they not be when fires like these are occurring?”

Francis said he walked around the neighborhood after Glynn’s rampage, and there was a noticeable change in mood. “I think businesses and buildings started to realize they could be next if they are unlucky,” said Francis.

Stewart agrees. “When engaging with the staff and customers, it is clear they are feeling that there has been a turn since the start of COVID-19 with more noticeable crime,” he said.

According to data from the New York City Police Department, Chelsea has seen an increase in crime compared to the same time last year. In 2021, grand larceny is up by 183.3%, robbery by 20% and misdemeanor assault by 180%.

Despite growing concerns in the community, Stewart and Van Leyden are both staying positive.

“LouLou’s opened on February 19, three weeks before COVID-19, so we have been through hell and have overcome it already,” said Van Leyden. “We spent $60,000 on each section outside, so we are going to use that money from insurance to rebuild in a way that coincides with upcoming restaurant protocols. We will make it nicer than it was before and give our restaurant a fighting chance.”

“Things happen for whatever reason, but I don’t live in fear and paranoia,” said Stewart. “You get on with things and stay hopeful.”