A Prohibition Era NYC Law Close to Repeal

A Prohibition Era law designed to put the clamps on New York City nightlife has support for a repeal, according to Brooklyn councilman Rafael Espinal. Espinal introduced a bill that will be taken under consideration Tuesday to repeal the near century-old Cabaret Law that makes it illegal to host “musical entertainment, singing, dancing or other form of amusement” without a proper cabaret license.

The law kept such music luminaries as Billie Holiday and Ray Charles from performing in the “City That Never Sleeps” for decades before being amended to lessen restrictions on performers. The dancing provision of the law, however, has remained in tact, resorting to clubs using speakeasy tactics to warn of crackdowns. The selective enforcement by the Multi-Agency Response to Community Hotspots, otherwise known as MARCH, has led to many establishments being shut down and underground dance clubs taking their place.

The New York Times reports that Mayor Bill de Blasio supports a repeal, provided the security camera and certified security guard requirements added to the law during the Rudy Guiliani administration, remain in place.

When the Cabaret Law was enacted in 1926, the expense and restrictions placed on establishments wishing to provide nightlife entertainment made acquiring a license difficult. Many of the night spots that were targeted early on included the jazz clubs of Harlem. During the 1990s, Mayor Guiliani ramped up enforcement of the law as the EDM movement began to take hold. The current administration has issued few citations and with possible repeal on tap for Tuesday, New York will once again be free to dance.