Tom Malenski, a bouncer and beloved staffer at local rock club the Ottobar, died in September after he and another employee were attacked outside the club. The 35-year-old was off-duty and enjoying a show by the punk band GBH when he stepped in to help a fellow bouncer eject someone in the crowd.
Immediately, the tight-knit Ottobar staff and its community of musicians and music fans mourned the loss, taking to social media to write long and thoughtful posts about Malenski’s positivity and compassion.
His longtime girlfriend and former fiancee, Hayley Dopkowski, says this outlook took hold for Malenski following 12 years of sobriety and learning through his job at the Ottobar to think of reasoned alternatives to violence. He got along with all types of people—“the kind of guy that would go to a hardcore show one night and then go to a Phish concert the next,” says Dopkowski—and his easy-going nature and willingness to listen made Malenski’s friends comfortable consulting him with their problems.
“There’s quite a few people who have sat at the bar after hours having conversations with Tom for two to three hours, just talking through things,” she says. “He was just a great person to listen and always give his two cents and help out.”
In addition to nights at Ottobar, Malenski worked day shifts at Mueller’s Delicatessen on Harford Road. Beyond occasionally buying CDs or DVDs, Malenski used the money from his two jobs to help support his mother and grandmother, with whom he lived in Hamilton. Many times, he pushed himself beyond the point of exhaustion to keep his two gigs, she recalls.
“He would literally put himself to the point of exhaustion just to make sure his family was okay,” she says.
Dopkowski and Malenski met at work. Kind of. She started at Legends, a comic book store in Towson that rented space to the punk and hardcore record shop Celebrated Summer, where he worked. They mostly just exchanged greetings at first, and then one day, Malenski returned after closing up shop to pick up a Heroin Chic CD he said he meant to buy. They started talking a bit and he asked her out—their first date was a run for Frappucinos at Starbuck’s and sitting in a car for six hours, listening to music and talking. Some time later, Malenski revealed the whole CD thing was a ploy, and that he merely grabbed the first thing he saw.
Two months into their relationship, the couple went to Ocean City and Malenski proposed. He used a Ring Pop. Eventually, they got Dopkowski a more traditional ring, and the couple was engaged for two years. Though they split, Dopkowski says they remained best friends and continued to end conversations with “I love you.”
Several days after the attack, a candlelight vigil was held, with dozens turning out to place flowers against the club’s outside wall and write messages. Inside, attendees took turns onstage sharing stories about their departed friend. For days after, the memorial gained more bouquets and handwritten goodbyes.
A GoFundMe account to assist Malenski’s family with any related costs raised $17,626 from 547 donations, and in October, the venue hosted a benefit show and silent auction.
Though the outpouring and support and contributions are the mark of a man who left a deep impact on the people he touched, perhaps the best representation comes from Malenski himself. Not long before the attack, he posted on Facebook about how he had been feeling down but then took a new friend around town and ran into lots of familiar faces.
“it was one of those nights that reminds me and want to put it out there for everyone that this city and community is amazing. no matter if i hang with you all the time or just share a few words occasionally i love, respect and care for all that are in my life,” he wrote.
“so many different lifestyles, viewpoints and characters i know and some share things in common and others i don’t but learn from and admire anyway. if nothing else this is to remind myself and others that we aren’t alone,” he continued. “sometimes you just got to step out and youll realize that folks you may not even know care do and it will bring you up a bit when your lost. hope everybodys having a good day. love and respect.”