The New York Times published an article by Jeffery C. Mays and Julia Carmel on June 1, 2022 concerning Mayor Adams' initiative to reform prohibitions against dancing in the Zoning Resolution. The article misses some important points, and, alas, for no reason as to the purpose of the article, repeats the debunked claim that the Cabaret Law targeted racially mixed jazz clubs in Harlem.
Nightlife-Loving Mayor, Offers Plan to ‘Let the People Dance’
The article refers to a Plan from the Mayor’s office. Oddly, the Plan from the Mayor’s Office of the same date concerns zoning resolution reforms relating to other matters, but does not refer to dancing.
The Times article is useful in bringing to the public’s attention proposed changes which are being negotiated outside of the view of interested members of the public. For example, the Office of Nightlife refuses to provide to this blog the e-mail sent by the Office to the writers of the Times Article.
We have the following comments concerning some of the statements made in the article.
Ariel Palitz, executive director of the Office of Nightlife at the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment, said in an email that Mr. Adams was essentially carrying out “unfinished business” left behind from the repeal of the Cabaret Law.
In response to our FOIL request, the Office of Nightlife has stated that it will not provide a response to the FOIL until October.
It is widely believed that the law was used to target racially mixed jazz clubs in Harlem… If a law or a regulation is founded with clear, bigoted intent or if the results of enforcement are clearly racist or bigoted in any way, it needs to be repealed point blank,” he said.
Comment: The belief that the law was used to “target racially mixed jazz clubs in Harlem” has been thoroughly debunked: no historian of the period support this belief, and no contemporary sources support this belief. Indeed, reporting by the New York Times in June, 1926, concerning the bill ultimately adopted in December, 1926, Cabaret Law completely undercuts this belief. See, e.g., the books of historians Michael Lerner (Harvard University Press) and Burton W. Peretti (University of Pennsylvania Press), documented with contemporary sources, which scholarly works thoroughly reject the premise of a single constitutional law professor opining without citing any contemporary sources. Indeed, the New York courts deciding cases brought by this professor notably do not repeat this unsupported opinion. Chiasson I, Chisasson II and Festa cases. I mention this issue, for I wonder how this statement made its way into your article. The New York Times continues to stir the public discourse by repeating this debunked claim. See also Night Clubs’ Curfew Enters Another Cycle – Why Mayor Walker Determined They Must Close At 3 A.M. — Gaynor And Mitchel Also Had To Restrict Revelry During The Dark Hours. New York Times January 2, 1927.
music was not allowed at bars without a cabaret license until 1936.
This is somewhat of an overstatement and very misleading – apparently player pianos were allowed in 1936 under the Cabaret Law (although we have yet to locate the citation to the law implementing this change), but no live music was allowed without a Cabaret License even in 1936. We am not aware of any live music being allowed until 1955 in an amendment to the Zoning Resolution, but not an amendment of the Cabaret Law.
Even after the law was repealed, the city’s zoning rules still prevented dancing in some restaurants or bars.
It would be fairer to state that the zoning rules prevent dancing in MOST restaurants and bars in NYC, that is in all mixed residential/commercial zoning districts. For example, dancing is not allowed in much of Harlem and the Bronx.
The proposed changes will remove dancing from consideration under the zoning laws and will instead rely on indicators such as whether venues have cover charges or show times and thus might need a license, city officials said.
Excluding cover charges to pay for the cost of hiring live musicians is a continuing blow to the many musicians in New York City. Most of these gigs are not union gigs, but many musicians appreciate the opportunity to hone their craft and develop audiences. Unless a venue can pay its live musicians, the musicians will need to work for nothing. Similarly, cover charges may be needed to cover the costs of DJ’s and dance teachers. This is hardly a move forward. The focus on cover charges was first added in 1989 in response to the loss by the City to the Chiasson challenges to music restrictions. It is worrisome that the Musicians Union (which on the whole focuses on union musicians in Broadway and classical performances and recording studios), which won the Chiasson cases, did not object to the 1989 restrictions on music and dancing and do not seem to object to the continued chilling actions of the Zoning Resolution and the State Liquor Authority with respect to live music.
Large establishments that want to offer dancing will still come under review as they apply for a liquor license,
This is a puzzling comment. At present small and large institutions in Zoning Districts which allow dancing (Use Group 12 and hotels) must come under “review” of the State Liquor Authority (SLA) which collaborates with Community Boards to impose questionable restrictions on legal activity, which has a chilling effect on venue owners. Change of the Zoning Resolution will not change the activities of the SLA and Community Boards which impose dancing and music restriction in the liquor licensing process. Indeed, testimony offered at the hearings on repeal of the Cabaret Law indicated that the influence of Community Boards on the approval of a Cabaret License was a major barrier to obtaining a Cabaret License. At present, the Method of Operations form required by the SLA inquires into the types of music being played – which raises serious First Amendment issues as well as is suggestive of discrimination against “minority” music. The arbitrary influence of the SLA and Community Boards is illustrated by three venues in the City, located in Use Group 12 and Use Group 10 (hotels) where dancing occurs which in fact allow patron dancing, but do not have dancing mentioned in their Method of Operation forms or Liquor Licenses, seemingly because of Community Board opposition and offensive stipulations.
Jeffery C. Mays and Julia Carmel, Nightlife-Loving Mayor, Offers Plan to ‘Let the People Dance’, New York Times June 1, 2022.
Note: As of June 12, 2022, no legislation has been referred to the City Council Land Use Committee concerning dancing and the zoning resolution. The members are Joseph C. Borelli, Erik D. Bottcher, Selvena N. Brooks-Powers, Kamillah Hanks, Ari Kagan, Shekar Krishnan, Farah N. Louis, Darlene Mealy, Francisco P. Moya, Kevin C. Riley, Carlina Rivera and Pierina Ana Sanchez. The subcommittee on Zoning consists of Kevin C. Riley (Chair), Erik Bottcher, Shaun Abreu, Francisco Moya, Lynn Schulman, Farah N. Louis, Kamillah Hanks, and David Carr.