City Council Repeals 1926 Cabaret Law

Last week, the New York City Council voted nearly unanimously to repeal what is referred to as the Cabaret Law, subchapter 20 of chapter 2 of title 20 of the Administrative Code of the City of New York. That section had required premises where there is dancing or other conditions stated in the law to obtain a cabaret license from the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs.

The Cabaret Law was first introduced in 1926 to supposedly crack down on racketeers, though according to the October 30, 2017 City Council’s Committee Report of the Governmental Affairs Division, Committee on Consumer Affairs, some argued the law’s true aim was to prevent interracial mingling in Harlem jazz clubs. Over the decades there were a number of legal challenges to the law; some were successful and certain provisions of the cabaret law were struck down, and some, specifically related to dancing, were not. Many venues, including hotels and restaurant/lounges, that are not nightclubs, have suffered violations of the law simply when patrons standing at the bar dance or sway to music. This often resulted in the issuance of criminal court summonses, and license revocations proceedings by the New York State Liquor Authority. Enforcement however has been inconsistent.

After an exhaustive review and intense lobbying, the new local law sponsored by Councilmember Rafael Espinal and approved by the City Council repeals subchapter 20 and does away with the requirement to obtain a cabaret license for public dancing from the Department of Consumer Affairs. No specific permit will be required specifically for dancing under the new regulation, once it becomes law.

For premises that carry zoning use group 12, however, the new law still imposes requirements that are important to be aware of. Use group 12 applies to large entertainment facilities and includes pool halls, bowling alleys, eating and drinking establishments with entertainment for over 200 people, or any premises where there is public dancing. The new requirements include having digital video surveillance cameras at all entrances and exits with specific light and speed requirements that must be in operation during all hours of operation and for two hours after closing. The recordings must be preserved for a minimum of 30 days and signs must be posted notifying the public of the use of video surveillance. The new regulations will also require eating and drinking establishments that operate under use group 12 to have proof that each security guard and security guard company is registered as required by law. The law also specifically denotes what constitutes a security guard.

The repeal and new rules are awaiting signature by the mayor whereupon after a 120 day waiting period it will become law.