FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 26, 2021
Resolution seeks to end historically discriminatory regulations while providing relief to struggling hospitality and entertainment workers
New York, NY — New York City Council Member Keith Powers, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, and Council Member Mark Levine will propose a resolution on August 26 to repeal Cabaret Law zoning regulations that serve as a barrier for restaurants and bars operating in New York.
In 2017, the Council passed historic legislation that repealed the Cabaret Law and established the Mayor’s Office of Nightlife. Despite this important step, many restaurants and bars are still not permitted to have dancing or entertainment under current zoning regulations. The proposed resolution calls to end the city’s zoning laws over dancing and entertainment, so establishments would be regulated based on capacity of venue, rather than zoning.
Dancing restrictions like the Cabaret Law have historically had a disproportionate impact on Black, Latino, and LGBT communities. For decades, enforcement subjected Black jazz venues, gay bars, and other establishments to police raids, heightened surveillance, and flagrant discrimination. Legalizing dancing and entertainment across the city would allow New Yorkers to finally express themselves without fear of punishment or policing.
The COVID-19 pandemic hit the hospitality and entertainment industries particularly hard. Since March 2020, 60 percent of New York City’s entertainment jobs have disappeared and more than 1,000 bars and restaurants have shuttered. Even though New Yorkers are venturing out again, many establishments still struggle to make ends meet.
“New York City is the center of nightlife and culture, but not according to our outdated policies,” said Council Member Keith Powers. “The current zoning restrictions regulating dancing and entertainment not only hurt small businesses and marginalized communities, but inhibit our city’s recovery. It’s time we take action and repeal these antiquated laws once and for all.”
“We can’t let outdated regulations hold back our economic recovery from COVID-19,” said Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams. “Our food and drink establishments have been hammered by the pandemic, and many are in dire financial straits. We took an important step in 2017 by repealing the Cabaret Law and combating years of discrimination against Black, Latino, and LGBTQ+ New Yorkers. Now, we must change the remnants of the law in our City’s zoning code, and let New Yorkers break it down without breaking the law. I thank Council Member Powers for his partnership on this resolution and advocating on behalf of our hospitality industry.”
“As we begin to recover from the pandemic, our city must use this opportunity to address the many underlying inequalities that have unfairly burdened or excluded businesses, many minority owned or in low-income areas, from achieving their full potential,” said Council Member Mark Levine. “New York City’s nightlife is an indelible part of what makes this city an exciting place to live and to visit. But all our bars, restaurants, and music venues have been hit hard by the pandemic and it is vital to our recovery that they are given every chance to succeed. This resolution would provide many struggling establishments a commonsense and appropriate way to bring in more revenue and increase their chance of survival.”
“Repealing the racist Cabaret Law was a huge step for our City, but we must continue to eliminate discriminatory rules and regulations that disproportionally impact communities of color,” said Council Member Adrienne Adams. “I fully support this resolution, which will help our establishments thrive as we continue to recover from this pandemic.”
“As the owner of a bar that features live entertainment, I know first-hand how crushing COVID-19 has been to the livelihoods of our staff and performers – many of whom are working singers, dancers, and actors,” said actor, activist, and co-owner of Club Cumming Alan Cumming. “I also know firsthand the inconvenience and huge costs in lawyers’ fees just to be able to stay in business when the antiquated Zoning Resolutions restrictions on dancing and entertainment are weaponized and used against small business owners – historically especially among Black, Latino and other minorities. That’s why I’m proud to stand with Council Member Keith Powers in calling on the City Planning Commission to take immediate action to support the recovery of small businesses and the arts by amending the zoning resolution to allow entertainment and dancing in all eating and drinking establishments.”
“It’s ridiculous that in 2021 New York City still has rules on the books prohibiting people from dancing at their local restaurants and bars,” said Andrew Rigie, Executive Director, NYC Hospitality Alliance. “It’s way past time to repeal this relic and let people dance and express themselves. We commend Councilmember Keith Powers for calling on the City of New York to repeal these dancing restrictions while keeping the proper safety requirements in place.”
“New York City is not Footloose’s tiny town, and there should be no place for remnants of a law aimed at barring racially integrated nightlife in 2021,” said Justin Harrison, senior policy counsel at the New York Civil Liberties Union. “Four years ago, the City Council did its part to repeal this outdated and anti-expression law, and now, the Department of City Planning must now bring zoning restrictions over dancing and entertainment at bars and restaurants to an end. Dancing warrants First Amendment protections, and it’s past time for New York City to repeal the ‘Cabaret Law’ in both theory and practice.”
“We made history when we repealed the century old notorious Cabaret Law, but we understood it was only the first step in unraveling the city’s over-policing and bureaucratic management of NYC’s Nightlife,” said former Council Member and current Freelancers Union President Rafael Espinal. “Zoning laws continue to be a hurdle for many Nightlife artists and venues that are struggling to create safe spaces for culture and expression to proliferate. It’s time we get rid of the dance police once and for all. We support Council Member Keith Powers’ and Borough President Eric Adams’ efforts to update our old-fashioned zoning regulations and make NYC the Nightlife capital of the world.”
“I am a queer artist who created a whole career out of dancing in bars and clubs in New York. I know that any law banning dancing is an attack on the free expression of the community against which it is enforced, whether that community is young, Black, Latino, Asian, queer, creative, prays to a different god, or all of the above,” said Jake Shears, Multi-Platinum Singer Songwriter, Broadway Actor, Dancer. “It’s long past time for New York City to stop telling people where they can dance and who they can dance with. The Department of City Planning shouldn’t wait another day to legalize dancing in the Zoning Resolution.”
“Since Prohibition, regulation of dancing and entertainment in bars and restaurants has always been enacted under the pretext of preserving a ‘quality of life’ and enforced to prevent gatherings of Black and brown people and other minorities,” said President of the Black Institute Bertha Lewis. “Four years ago, the City Council repealed the Cabaret Law, which was supposed to end all that. But nothing has changed. The Zoning Resolution still prohibits dancing in bars and restaurants and the Mayor’s M.A.R.C.H operation still targets nightlife businesses in neighborhoods with large minority populations four times as often as it targets businesses in less diverse neighborhoods. The Black Institute supports the resolution Council Member Powers is introducing today. It’s time for the Mayor to put the dance police out of business permanently by directing the Department of City Planning to certify, by the end of this year, an amendment to the Zoning Resolution to allow dancing and entertainment as-of-right in all eating and drinking establishments.”
“The Cabaret Law is an unnecessary law that hampers our ability to maintain New York as the nation’s nightlife capitol,” said Allen Roskoff, President of the Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club. “It has often been used to discriminate against Black and Brown people and establishments catering to the LGBTQ community. It is vital that nightlife thrive and impediments like the Cabaret law are harmful to the city’s vitality, ability to provide employment and to our tax base. We all suffer as a result. We thank Councilmember Keith Powers and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams for bringing this matter before the Department of City Planning and for standing up for Nightlife. Simply put, let our people dance!”
“Dancing is the lifeblood of NYC—a key way that we celebrate. And we need more celebrations now than ever!” said legendary drag queen, Founder of Wigstock, and international DJ Lady Bunny. “NYC nightlife employs 299,000 people and generates a total of $35.1 billion in total economic output–including $697 million in local tax revenue. Ignore how much fun it is. Even without clubs’ cultural impact, the business of nightlife is lucrative, supports many and should be encouraged for that alone. I DJ at the only gay venue with a dance floor open 7 nights a week in Manhattan. That’s tragic! For decades, we’ve had more Disney shows on Broadway than gay dance clubs. Adults need entertainment, too. NYC should foster the vibrant club scene which helped put it on the map, not look down on it.”
“Legalizing dancing and entertainment would dismantle a piece of structural discrimination and no doubt strengthen the local city economy, particularly during this time in which local businesses suffered greatly due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Brandon Lorenz, National Director of Public Policy, Actors’ Equity Association.
“The NYC Artists Coalition asks the City Planning Commission to eliminate any reference to dancing in the zoning text,” said Olympia Kazi, NYC Artists Coalition, NYC Nightlife Advisory Board Member. “Quality of life concerns are better addressed by the building, fire and noise codes. Any zoning regulation required should be associated with a venue’s capacity and liquor license. Moreover, dancing is an expressive activity, whether on a stage or on a dance floor. The City should not maintain regulations that could not be enforced against any other speech protected by the First Amendment and which directly affect the livelihood of many: DJs, music and dance performers, sound and light engineers, waiters, cleaning and security personnel as well as the collectives behind cultural spaces and the owners of commercial nightlife establishments.”
“The City of New York must not only protect but encourage social dancing by ensuring that its regulations are commensurate with our moniker as ‘The City That Never Sleeps,’” said Co-Founder of the Brooklyn Allied Bars and Restaurants David Rosen. “We encourage the Department of City Planning to swiftly adopt the proposed changes to the zoning resolution so that our hospitality businesses can focus on rebuilding our spaces of social gathering, celebration, and personal expression.”
“Dancing and live music have always gone hand in hand, and the musicians of NYC enthusiastically support this resolution to legalize dancing and entertainment in all eating and drinking establishments,” said Local 802 President Adam Krauthamer.
“Since the inaugural parade to protest the 1926 Cabaret Law, Dance Parade celebrates over 100 unique styles of dance each May,” said Dance Parade New York Board Chair Jerry S. Goldman, Esq. “We are grateful to City Council Member Powers for proposing to modernize zoning regulations so that more venues can enjoy dance as a healthy activity in all its cultural forms.”
“The existing dancing restrictions in the Zoning Resolution are rooted in discrimination,” said Caroline Nelson, Assistant General Manager at House of Yes. “Much like the restrictions in the now-repealed Cabaret Law, which was officially repealed at House of Yes by Mayor DeBlasio, these limitations were intended in part to prevent community building, particularly among Black, Latino, and LGBTQ people. They were wrong then and they have no place in New York City now.”
“When I sued the City challenging the constitutionality of the Cabaret Law, the City repealed it,” said Andrew Muchmore, Owner of Muchmore’s Cafe. “The zoning regulations restricting dancing also violate the First Amendment and should be repealed. People shouldn’t have to consult a lawyer to dance.”
“For nearly 100 years, New York City has regulated behavior including dancing in bars to justify harassment of Blacks and Latinos, as well as Gays, Lesbians and Trans folks to enforce gender conformity,” said writer, actor, director, and DJ John Cameron Mitchell. “That’s why everyone should join City Council Member Powers in calling on the City Planning Commission to take immediate action to amend the Zoning Resolution to get rid of these regulations and to allow dancing everywhere while remaining reasonably respectful to local residents.”
“It is well beyond time for the era of NYC acting like the small town in Footloose to come to an end,” said Robert Bookman, Pesetsky & Bookman, PC, longtime attorney for the nightlife industry. “People should have the right to dance everywhere, subject of course to common sense Building, Fire and other safety laws.”