The law was enacted in 1926 by Mayor Jimmy Walker in order to help police put an end to speakeasies, but after Prohibition was repealed, the Cabaret Law stayed. In order for dancing to be allowed, businesses have to obtain a costly, and time-consuming permit which requires several agencies' approval. The businesses also have to be located in an area zoned for commercial manufacturing in order to be eligible. Today, only 97 of the approximately 25,000 restaurants and bars in New York City have a cabaret license, reports The New York Times.
Amendments over the years have made the law less far-reaching. At first, music was not permitted at all in bars without a license until 1936, when the law was amended to allow radio- and piano-playing. Even with the revision, it still prevented bands of more than three musicians from performing at once. It also prohibited percussion, brass, or wind instruments. This has since been changed, and the law even went uninforced for a while. The Cabaret Law was revived in the 1990s to shut down dance clubs as rave culture gained popularity.
With time, many of these outdated laws often go uninforced entirely; however, in 2013 a Williamsburg bar got fined after an officer witnessed people "swaying" to music while investigating a noise complaint.
Rafael Espinal, a councilman in Brooklyn, has introduced a bill that would eliminate the Cabaret Law. Current New York City mayor Bill de Blasio said through a spokesperson that he "strongly supports" repealing the outdated law. The new bill, which needs 26 votes, is expected to pass.
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