The Devil Made Him Do It

In New York, illegal clubs become a way of life -- and death

In New York City, where they never roll up the sidewalks, illegal social clubs are a long tradition. There are more than 1,000 such clubs strewn across the city's five boroughs, dispensing cheap booze, loud music and a touch of the home country to immigrants. Many of them have something in common: the lack of a liquor license. All too many also offer their patrons something besides the prospect of a hot time on the town: the high risk of a fiery death.

The city's law-enforcement bureaucracies have long been aware of the risks posed by the absence of anti-fire precautions...