New York

Councilmember Proposes Nightlife Task Force To Chip Away Cabaret Law

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For years, dance enthusiasts and nightclub owners have tried and failed to repeal New York City’s ancient, detestable cabaret law, only to watch their efforts be summarily blocked. Now Brooklyn Councilman Rafael Espinal Jr. is stepping up to the plate, but he’s taking a slightly different tack than his predecessors.

Zoning restrictions have proven to be the monolithic obstacle to simply dissolving the law, which requires nightlife establishments hoping to throw dance parties to acquire a cabaret license before any three people may shimmy in unison on the premises. Before attempting the onerous task of repealing the cabaret law, Espinal is proposing a bill that would create a Nightlife Task Force, from which an Office of Nightlife will eventually be formed.

The Task Force would be composed of nine appointees — five from the mayor’s office, and four from the City Council — and will likely include a mix of industry folks, like artists and musicians, as well as law enforcement, like NYPD officers and members of the FDNY. It will be responsible for researching the city’s rules and regulations, and will have one year to produce recommendations that address “common issues and trends in the nightlife industry.” 

Once the Task force completes its investigation, Espinal envisions the creation of an Office of Nightlife. Though its function will be largely dependent on the outcome of the Task Force’s investigation, the current idea is that it would monitor 311 complaints against the city’s party spots, and act as a liaison between establishments, residents, and the city government. Crucially, it will also help nightlife proprietors navigate the dense tangle of city licensing requirements. (As we previously reported, the process for getting a cabaret permit is cumbersome to the point of absurdity, stipulating everything from security cameras to proof of child support payments.)

Espinal emphasizes that he’s not giving up on seeing the cabaret law vanquished. But the Task Force and, later, the Office of Nightlife, will do more to address the root of the city’s systemic intolerance for bars and clubs — particularly those owned and patronized by people of color.

“We want to create an agency that will be friendly to the venues, and that understands the value of those venues,” he told the Voice.

A hearing scheduled for Monday at City Hall will allow stakeholders — nightlife impresarios, community members, and anyone who feels their First Amendment rights are being quashed by a draconian anti-fun law — to share their thoughts, hopes, and dreams. No dancing, though.

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