The New York City Cabaret law may sound like something out of the hit Kevin Bacon flick Footloose, but it’s a very real dance ban with a controversial legacy going back nearly 100 years. And that law — which prohibits dancing in all establishments unless the owners get a “virtually unobtainable” cabaret license — might just get scrapped this year, drastically changing the city’s nightlife safety regulations.
It looks like the writing could be on the wall for the infamous Cabaret law after the Mayor Bill de Blasio administration announced its support of Intro 1652-A, a bill that would repeal the NYC Cabaret Law, earlier this month, according to NY Daily News.
… “Repealing the cabaret law while maintaining important safety provisions will go a long way to ensuring New Yorkers can fully enjoy the city's vast array of nightlife venues."
"We feel there are better ways than the current cabaret law to create a strong and healthy nightlife economy while also ensuring the safety and security of everyone participating in that economy,” Lindsay Greene, a senior adviser to de Blasio, said. "Repealing the cabaret law while maintaining important safety provisions will go a long way to ensuring New Yorkers can fully enjoy the city's vast array of nightlife venues."
And just last week, de Blasio signed a separate bill officially creating the city’s newest agency, the Office of Nightlife, according to NPR. The signing at artspace/nightclub House of Yes in Bushwick was attended by city council members, club owners, dance aficionados, and even famed drummer Marky Ramone, according to NPR.
The bill, which was drafted by first-term Brooklyn Council Member Rafael Espinal, tasks the Office of Nightlife and its advisory group to act as an intermediary between the nightlife industry, local government, and residents.
With Intro 1652-A on the docket, the establishment of the Office of Nightlife, and the support of the de Blasio administration, a repeal of this highly criticized Prohibition-era law might just become a reality, making it easier for bars, clubs, and restaurant owners to allow dancing in a safe and regulated environment.
What does that mean for NYC’s nightlife security?
The History of the NYC Cabaret Law
The NYC Cabaret Law was created in 1926 during the Prohibition Era in order to control “scandalous” nightclubs, according to The Huffington Post. The minutes from the meeting in which the idea of the Cabaret Law was conceived read:
“There has been altogether too much running 'wild' in some of these night clubs [...] Your Committee believes that these 'wild' people should not be tumbling out of these resorts at six or seven o'clock in the morning to the scandal and annoyance of decent residents on their way to daily employment."
There has been altogether too much running 'wild' in some of these night clubs...
It is widely understood now that this law is discriminatory in nature, enacted to undermine the growing Harlem jazz scene and discourage “interracial mingling.” In fact, in a 2015 federal lawsuit, Brooklyn bar owner Andrew Muchmore challenged the law, stating that it is “a vestige of a bygone era of American history, where ‘separate, but equal’ was the law, and inter-racial association made legislators uneasy,” according to The Huffington Post.
Aspects of the law — such as the cabaret card policy, a denigrating and homophobic practice that required performers to be of “good character” and discriminated against anyone who “is or pretends to be a homosexual or lesbian,” according to The Huffington Post — were amended or challenged throughout the 20th century. The law was rarely enforced until 1997, when Mayor Rudy Giuliani began prosecuting those who broke the dance law again in an effort to “clean the streets” of New York, according to The Huffington Post.
Since enforcement of the law came back into practice, its detractors have spoken out against it, pushing for a repeal of the law through movements like Let NYC Dance.
Pushing Dance into the Unregulated Shadows
Beyond its dubious origins, critics of the law also claim that because it is so difficult for venues to obtain a cabaret license and host dance events equipped with the mandated security measures, the NYC Cabaret Law pushes dance culture into the dangerous and unregulated underground.
Out of the 26,000 bar and restaurant establishments in New York City, just 104 have active cabaret licenses, according to the latest data from the City of New York.
The numbers don’t lie: out of the 26,000 bar and restaurant establishments in New York City, just 104 have active cabaret licenses, according to the latest data from the City of New York.
If nightlife-revelers want to dance, and there isn’t a legal venue nearby, they may take their partying to an unregulated club that lacks proper security — something the new law aims to curtail.
Cameras and Security Guards Among the Bill’s Requirements
The standard of security is part of the discussions surrounding the repeal of the NYC Cabaret Law.
Only dance halls are currently required by law to have security cameras and other security essentials in the city.
Along with doing away with the requirement of a cabaret license in all dance halls, cabarets, and catering establishments, the bill would uphold existing requirements for such establishments to install surveillance cameras and employ licensed security guards, according to the New York City Council.
Only dance halls are currently required by law to have security cameras and other security essentials in the city. But under the new proposed law, venues with an occupancy of 150 people or more that have liquor licenses, stay open past midnight, and charge a cover would have to have security cameras, certified security guards, and more, according to NY Daily News.
If the law passes, many more venues will have to upgrade their security to meet regulation. This could mean that large bars that didn’t previously need to meet the stringent safety guidelines required of establishments with cabaret license would have to beef up their security.
Nightlife is part of the soul of our city. The Office of Nightlife will make sure it stays that way for generations of New Yorkers to come. pic.twitter.com/hUNIZOVBJv— Bill de Blasio (@NYCMayor) September 20, 2017
Nightclub Security Across the Country
Although New York City is the city that “never sleeps,” it’s hardly the only place in the country with a vibrant nightlife and all of the security concerns that come with it.
In Orlando, city officials are debating what security measures need to be taken to prevent another tragic shooting like the one at Pulse nightclub. Metal detectors, an increased number of security guards, pat downs, and other security guidelines have been considered. While the city still does not currently require any of these measures, some nightclubs have begun using security “wanding,” hiring off-duty police officers, ID-scanning and other additional layers of security to help detect weapons and keep track of who visited the club, according to WFTV 9.
Atlanta has its own set of particular requirements. As of 2014, under the Georgia Safe Carry Protection Act, Atlanta residents with concealed carry permits can bring a gun into a bar or nightclub unless the owner of the establishment expressly forbids it, according to the Wall Street Journal. The onus is on the business owner to decide whether they will ban guns in their establishment, and then post a “no guns” sign.
As for Boston, a law was signed in 2007 making it mandatory for nightclubs and bar owners to conduct criminal background checks on bouncers, and to install security cameras outside the venues.
Nightlife Security: A Serious Issue
Venues aren’t just responsible for hosting a good time — they’re also responsible for keeping visitors and patrons safe while on their property, whether it’s a stadium, shopping mall, or nightclub. If the property owner fails to install security cameras, hire security guards, or other appropriate measures, and someone gets hurt, that could be considered negligent security.
If you or someone you love has been hurt a nightclub or venue because of the facility’s inadequate security, our negligent security attorneys at Morgan & Morgan may be able to help. Fill out our free, no-risk case evaluation form today.