Magdalena Waz


New York City, like all cities, has a number of archaic laws on the books which usually come with racist and classist overtones. The most recent law activists and the city’s councilmembers are taking aim at is the Cabaret Law, which prevents dancing at any establishment which is not properly licensed.

The law is broad stating that “any room, place, or space in New York City in which patron dancing is permitted in connection with the restaurant business or a business that sells food and/or beverages to the public requires a Cabaret license.”

Of the more than 20,000 bars, restaurants, and clubs in the city only 97 have a Cabaret license, but even though the current administration appears to ignore the law, future administrations might not be so kind.

Today, Rafael Espinal, the NYC councilmember who represents Bushwick, hosted a public hearing on his quest to repeal the law. His bill would create a “Nightlife Task Force and an Office of Nightlife. The Nightlife Task Force will study New York City laws, rules, regulations and policies to make findings and recommendations that address common issues and trends in the nightlife industry.”

Nearly 100 years after the law was put on the books, New York City may finally become a town where our right to dance is not determined by the whims of the current city administration.

The original Prohibition-era Cabaret Law restricted the use of instruments used in jazz performance and even after the law was found unconstitutional by the New York Supreme Court in 1988, Mayor Rudy Giuliani used it to justify the closure of bars which were considered “nuisances” as part of the wider broken windows policy. Basically, if the powers that be don’t like who is dancing or where they’re dancing, they have the right (currently) to shut that venue down. It’s easy to see how this system could be abused…

Featured image courtesy of Out in the Streets.