Adams Says Repeal Cabaret Laws, Let People Dance

Spike Lee's Block Party
People Dancing in the street. (Photo by Tsubasa Berg)

Mayoral hopeful and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, along with other city lawmakers, proposed a resolution Thursday to repeal zoning regulations in the Cabaret Law, first repealed in 2017 by members of the New York City Council. 

The new resolution seeks to end historically discriminatory regulations while providing relief to struggling hospitality and entertainment workers during the pandemic. 

“The current zoning restrictions regulating dancing and entertainment not only hurt small businesses and marginalized communities, but inhibit our city’s recovery,” said Council Member Keith Powers (D-Manhattan).

This comes as the hospitality and entertainment industries are still struggling in their recovery from the pandemic. Since March 2020, 60 percent of New York City’s entertainment jobs have disappeared and more than 1,000 bars and restaurants have shuttered.

Adams emphasized the fact that many bars, restaurants and music venues are struggling financially, saying that there is still more work to be done. 

“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,” he said. 

Local business owners and leaders of community organizations commended Adams, Powers and Levine for repealing the law in 2017 and for coming together to propose the resolution. 

“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 Alan Cumming, actor, activist, and co-owner of Club Cumming. 

Organizations in support of this resolution include NYC Hospitality Alliance, the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), and ​​the Black Institute.

“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. It’s way past time to repeal this relic and let people dance and express themselves,” said NYC Hospitality Alliance Executive Director Andrew Rigie.

NYCLU Senior Policy Counsel Justin Harrison said there should be no place for remnants of a law aimed at barring racially integrated nightlife in 2021. 

President of the Black Institute Bertha Lewis emphasized the fact that although the law was repealed four years ago, 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,” Lewis said. 

Council Member Mark Levine pointed out that New York City’s nightlife is an indelible part of what makes this city an exciting place to live and to visit.  

“This resolution would provide many struggling establishments a commonsense and appropriate way to bring in more revenue and increase their chance of survival,” he said.