Cabaret Law History

The Cabaret Law and parallel provision in the City's Zoning Resolution have evolved over time. This section provides pointers to the history from 1926 to present.

In order to understand the present, it is useful to understand the past. This section is under devlopment.

Three recommended books:

Lerner, M. A. (2007). Dry Manhattan Prohibition in New York City. Harvard University Press. Professor Lerner, a historian, focuses on the Prohibition Period and thus more closely relates the background of the Cabaret Law. “Professor Lerner disputes the view of Professor Chevigny that the Cabaret Law. It has been argued that Walker’s cabaret law was later used to regulate jazz clubs and, in particular , interracial dancing in Harlem clubs, but there is little evidence that this was the case during Walker’s administration.” Lerner extensively cites original sources.

Perretti, B. W. (2013). Nightclub City – Politics and Amusement in Manhattan. University of Pennsylvania Press. Historian Professor Perretti covers the Cabaret Law period and devotes ten pages to the background of the law.  He cites original sources. Perretti provides an overview of the many attempts to regulate nightlife in New York City and has lessons for present day efforts.

Chevigny, P. (2005). Gigs Jazz and the Cabaret Laws in New York City. Routledge. Constitutional Law Professor Cheivgny  was the lead lawyer in the challenges to the Cabaret Law in Chiasson I, Chiasson II, and Festa. He provides a fascinating history of changes to the Cabaret Law and the changes which allowed some music to be obtained without having a Cabaret License. Chevigny is a fan of jazz and  had personal knowledge of events in the 1980’s and 1990’s, but in no way is considered to be a historian.  His discussion of the original law has virtually not citation to contemporary sources such as newspapers, journals, and other contemporary accounts.

Contemporary Accounts

Thanks to the New York Times “Time Machine”, many relevant articles  from 1926 forward are available. Of course, a news article is not necessarily authoritative, but the Timea provides useful color.


Many writers refer to the 1926 Law, but, likely never read the law, so we located the original law in the City Archives. The original law does not in any way refer to the number and types of musical instruments that may be played in a venue without obtaining a license.  The original law contains no language to indicate any racial bias or bias toward jazz in Harlem.

A Local Law to regulate dance, halls and cabarets, and providing for licensing the same. December 7, 1926.

1955 Incorporation of Cabaret Law Restrictions in the Zoning Resolution.

Only in 1955 did the City get around to adding provisions to the Zoning Resolution to reflect regulation of nightclubs and other venues and to reflect the licensing under the Cabaret Law.

1961 Zoning Resolution

The 1961 Zoning Resolution continued the regulation of the 1955 Amendment and reflected the Use Groups in effect today.

Amendments to  Cabaret Law

As described  in the Chiasson decisions (Chiasson 1 and Chiasson 2) and in Chevigny’s book, the City amended the Cabaret Law to allow coffee houses and then other venues to present music  without obtaining a Cabaret License, limiting the number of musicians to three and the types of music to piano and string instruments.

Chisasson Cases – (Chiasson 1 and Chiasson 2)

In 1986 and 1988, the City lost  two cases brought by Professor Chevigny challenging provisions of the Cabaret Law. The Court decisions provide a discussion of the history of the Cabaret Law and on the whole appears to be accurate.

The 1989 Amendments To the Zoning Law

In response to the losses in the Chiasson cases, the  City in 1989 responded with even stricter measures in the Zoning Law, in particular in Use Group 6, with provisions which remain in effect today.

Mayor Giuliani’s Creation of the M.A.R.C.H. swat teams to Regulate Dancing and Music Venues.

The 2006 Festa Challenge  to the Dancing Restrictions in City Law

The 2017 Repeal of the Cabaret Law and Creation of the Office of Nightlife.

The 2019 City Council Local Law Reining in M.A.R.C.H operations.

The 2021 – City Council Proposes Resolution Requesting a Study of Rezoning re Dancing

The 2022 Initiative of Mayor Adams.




Categories: Cabaret Law History