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New York City Cabaret Law

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The New York City Cabaret Law was a dancing ban originally enacted in 1926, during Prohibition,[1] and repealed in 2017.[2] It referred to the prohibition of dancing in all New York City spaces open to the public selling food and/or drink unless they had obtained a cabaret license. It prohibited "musical entertainment, singing, dancing or other form of amusement" without a license.[3]

Critics argued that the license was expensive and difficult to obtain and that enforcement was arbitrary and weaponized against marginalized groups,[4] but proponents insisted that the law minimized noise complaints.[5]

According to the New York City Department of Consumer and Worker Protection,

A Cabaret License is required for any business that sells food and / or beverages to the public and allows patron dancing in a room, place, or space.[6]


The New York City Cabaret Law was passed in 1926, during the Harlem Renaissance. An attorney and professor challenging the cabaret law wrote that the law originally targeted jazz clubs in Harlem and the social mixing of races,[7] but a historian of the period rejects the view and said there is "little evidence" for that to be the case.[8]

In proposing the law, the Committee on Local Laws argued that "there has been altogether too much running 'wild' in some of these night clubs and, in the judgement of your Committee, the 'wild' stranger and the foolish native should have the check-rein applied a little bit."[9][10] In referring to "running wild," the 1926 Committee may have been alluding to the popular 1920s song "Runnin' Wild", which popularized the Charleston dance.

From 1940 to 1967, the New York Police Department issued regulations requiring musicians and other employees in cabarets to obtain a New York City Cabaret Card, and musicians such as Chet Baker, Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, and Billie Holiday had their right to perform suspended.[6]:p.57–68

In 1971, the Cabaret Law was modified to exempt musical performance "by not more than three persons playing piano, organ, accordion or guitar or any stringed instrument," which disproportionately affected jazz since drums, reeds, and horns were not allowed, as was stated in the Chiasson I case[11]:p.643 and the Chevigny book.[6]:p.14 The so-called three-musician rule was not found in the original 1926 text of the bill.

Throughout its history, the law was selectively enforced with its most notable enforcer, former mayor Rudy Giuliani, resurrecting the dormant rule as part of his implementation of broken windows policing to fine and shut down perceived nuisance bars in the late 1990s.[12]

Cabaret licensing

All applicants for a cabaret license had to be fingerprinted; to provide extensive financial records; to meet specific zoning, surveillance, physical security, fire, building, electrical, health, and record keeping requirements; and to pay the fees associated with each compliance.

In 2016, the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs claimed there were then 118 cabaret licenses in a city of 25,100 licensed food service establishments.[13]

Criticism and challenges

The law was heavily criticized both by the general public and from within city government.

The limits on types of instruments were ruled unconstitutional in Warren Chiasson v. New York City Department of Consumer Affairs, 132 Misc.2d 640 (N.Y. County Sup. Ct., 1986),[11] and the three-musician limit was found to be unconstitutional in a later decision in the same case in Warren Chiasson v. New York City Department of Consumer Affairs, 138 Misc.2d 394 (N.Y. County Sup. Ct., 1988).[14] Although the code was change to reflect the ruling as to types of instrument, the text to reflect the elimination of the three-musician limit was not corrected in the text of the Administrative Code.

A broader challenge to the Cabaret Law and New York City's Zoning Resolution under the New York State Constitution was rejected in John Festa v. New York City Department of Consumer Affair, 12 Misc. 3d 466 (Sup. Ct. NY County 2006),[15] but the court urged legislative review of the law and concluded, "Surely, the Big Apple is big enough to find a way to let people dance."

In 2015, Brooklyn attorney and bar owner Andrew Muchmore filed a still-ongoing case in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York against the law, claiming it violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the US Constitution.[13][16] The Muchmore case challenged the Cabaret Law but not New York City's Zoning Resolution.


In 2017, Dance Liberation Network was formed, co-founded by Frankie Decaiza Hutchinson of Discwoman. They began the 'Let NYC Dance' movement to campaign for the repeal of the law. [17] In June, New York City Councilmember Rafael Espinal introduced a bill for the full repeal of the regulation.[18] It was passed 44-1 by the City Council on October 31, 2017.[19]

However, a venue can still be fined or closed by the city, as the law still requires the venue to be located in a zone that allows dancing.[20]

See also


  1. ^ "Text of 1926 Cabaret Law As enacted" (PDF). Zort Music. Zort Music. Retrieved 24 September 2017.
  2. ^ Correal, Annie. "After 91 Years, New York Will Let Its People Boogie". The New York Times. Retrieved 31 October 2017.
  3. ^ "NYC Cabaret Law text" (PDF).
  4. ^ Pickens, Ashley (2017-04-03). "Historically Racist NYC Law That Prevents Dancing In Bars Is Being Petitioned". Vibe. Retrieved 2017-04-15.
  5. ^ krawitz, alan (2016-03-22). "Ninety years and counting for New York City's outdated cabaret law". Metro. Retrieved 2017-03-12.
  6. ^ a b c "Cabaret License - NYC Business". Retrieved 2017-03-12.
  7. ^ Chevigny, Paul (2012-01-01). Gigs: jazz and the cabaret laws in New York City. London: Routledge. ISBN 9780415648004.
  8. ^ Lerner, Michael A. (2008). Dry Manhattan Prohibition in New York City. Chapter 6: Harvard University Press. ISBN 9780674030572.CS1 maint: location (link)
  9. ^ Proceedings of Bd. of Aldermen Mun. Assembly of City of New York, Recommendation No. 10, Dec. 7, 1926, at 572
  10. ^ "Cabaret Law, Decades Old, Faces Repeal". The New York Times. 20 November 2003. Retrieved 29 September 2017.
  11. ^ a b "Warren Chiasson v. New York City Department of Consumer Affairs, 132 Misc.2d 640 (N.Y. County Sup. Ct., 1986)". Google Scholar.
  12. ^ "NEW YORK VOICES: License To Dance | Thirteen / WNET New York". Retrieved 2017-03-12.
  13. ^ a b "MUCHMORE'S CAFE, LLC V. CITY OF NEW YORK, Memorandum and Order, (EDNY 14-cv-05668, Doc. 27, September 29, 2016)" (PDF). GPO.
  14. ^ "Warren Chiasson v. New York City Department of Consumer Affairs, 138 Misc.2d 394 (N.Y. County Sup. Ct., 1988)". Google Scholar.
  15. ^ "John Festa v. New York City Department of Consumer Affair, 12 Misc. 3d 466 (Sup. Ct. NY County 2006)". Google Scholar.
  16. ^ "NYC lawyer and bar owner sues over cabaret licensing requirement". ABA Journal. Retrieved 2017-03-12.
  17. ^ "How You Can Help End N.Y.C.'s Racist No-Dancing Law". The FADER. Retrieved 2020-06-10.
  18. ^ "The New York City Council Int. No. 1652".
  19. ^ "Action Details Int 1652-2017". Legistar. New York City Council. October 31, 2017.
  20. ^ "Nighttime NYC: Law's Repeal Alone Won't End City's Dance Drought". Retrieved 13 December 2017.
This page was last edited on 14 August 2020, at 17:54
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