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It’s Official! Mayor de Blasio signs legislation to repeal racist Cabaret Law

NYC Can Dance Again

November 28, 2017 By Scott Enman Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Mayor Bill de Blasio (center) and Councilmember Rafael Espinal (left) celebrate the signing of legislation that repealed the Cabaret Law. Courtesy of NYC Mayor’s Office

Many notable names have graced the stage at Brooklyn’s newest nightclub Elsewhere.

From Tove Lo to Detroit techno legends Stacey Pullen and Juan Atkins, thousands have swarmed to the three-week-old East Williamsburg hotspot.

But it was, perhaps, Monday’s guest who elicited the most praise, and who will likely go down as one of the venue’s more historic visitors.

News for those who live, work and play in Brooklyn and beyond

In front of hundreds of artists, musicians and business owners, Mayor Bill de Blasio signed legislation into law that officially repealed the 91-year-old Cabaret Law.

“Last night was a historic event and the start of a new chapter for our city,” Councilmember Rafael Espinal (D-Bushwick-Brownsville-Cypress Hills) told the Brooklyn Eagle. “We doubled down on our commitment that NYC is truly a sanctuary city, open to all people who want to live and express themselves.

“The City That Never Sleeps sent a signal that we are a place where people can conduct business, and now dance, without fear of the dance police.”

The Cabaret or “Anti-Dancing” Law was an antiquated and draconian rule that prohibited dancing by three or more people in any “room, place or space in the city” to which the public may gain admission and includes “musical entertainment, singing, dancing or other form[s] of amusement.”

The law was created in 1926, and stated that people could only dance in venues that possessed a cabaret license, but these certificates were expensive and extremely difficult to obtain.

In fact, only 104 establishments in the entire city have the license.

The law was used in the 1920s and 1930s to shutter African-American jazz establishments at the height of the Harlem Renaissance, and it was later enforced in the 1990s under Mayor Rudy Giuliani to target the city’s gay bars, according to NYC Artist Coalition, an organization that “[protects] community spaces.”

“It’s 2017, and this law just didn’t make sense. Nightlife is part of the New York melting pot that brings people together,” de Blasio said. “We want to be a city where people can work hard, and enjoy their city’s nightlife without arcane bans on dancing.”

Int. 1652-A, which was campaigned by Espinal, passed the City Council on Oct. 31.

The legislation signed on Monday repeals all but two parts of the law regarding safety provisions: Venues must still install and maintain security cameras, and if security guards are hired, they must be licensed pursuant to state law.

Prior to signing the legislation, de Blasio asked the crowd, “Is it time to sign the new, improved, better, liberated, open, embracing, modern Introduction 1652-A?”

The room exploded into raucous applause, and de Blasio said, “Then let’s make some history, everybody. “

The repeal of the Cabaret Law is part of a broader agenda to address cultural, social and quality-of-life issues in New York’s City’s vibrant nightlife scene.

In September, de Blasio signed into law Espinal’s legislation to create an Office of Nightlife and Nightlife Advisory Board.

A night mayor will run the Office of Nightlife. The new position’s responsibilities will include regulating the nightlife industry, helping DIY venues stay open and creating a safer partying environment.

With Monday’s victory less than a day old, Espinal was already tackling his district’s next issue.

“I look forward to continuing this conversation, working with the Office of Nightlife and the advocates who helped push this to the finish line to explore our city’s archaic zoning code to see how we can build on this progress,” Espinal told the Eagle.

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