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New York City Repeals Prohibition-Era Cabaret Law

By Jonathan L. Bing and Alissa M. Yohey
  • November 1, 2017

The New York City Council overwhelmingly voted on October 31, 2017, to pass legislation (Int. 1652) that repeals the City’s longstanding Cabaret Law. At the same time, Int. 1652 retains certain security requirements of the old law for large establishments.

The existing Cabaret Law, established nearly a century ago during Prohibition, requires any business venue where dancing occurs to obtain a Cabaret license from the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs before operating. The law also prohibits musical entertainment, singing, or other forms of amusement without a Cabaret license at establishments in New York City. Currently, premises required to hold a Cabaret license also must provide a copy of it to the New York State Liquor Authority in order to be licensed to sell or serve alcohol at the premises.

While active enforcement of the Cabaret Law has been on the decline in the past several years, this legislative effort marks the end of decades of strong opposition by venue operators and performers to the law as written.

The lead sponsor of the legislation is City Council Member Rafael L. Espinal (D-Brooklyn), who is also Chairman of the Council’s Committee on Consumer Affairs. Proponents of the legislation assert that Cabaret licenses are too expensive and difficult to obtain, leaving many venue operators fearful that they might be subject to fines or a violation of their alcohol licenses. Proponents also claim that the Cabaret Law has had a discriminatory impact on certain types of music.

The legislation will repeal the entire Cabaret Law while retaining certain requirements of the law relating to security measures at large entertainment establishments. Once this legislation becomes law, neither operators nor performers will need to apply for a Cabaret license for any reason. Operators of certain large entertainment establishments (as defined by the New York City zoning laws), however, will need to maintain existing requirements regarding the use of video surveillance cameras and security guards. The requirements will be codified under new section 10-177 in § 2, Title 10 of the Administrative Code of the City of New York.

The legislation has the support of Mayor Bill de Blasio, who is expected to sign Int. 1652 into law shortly. This legislative effort comes on the heels of a number of pro-hospitality and nightlife-friendly measures enacted by the City, including the recent establishment of the Office of Nightlife within the New York City Office of Media and Entertainment.

For more information on compliance, hospitality law, or government affairs, please contact your Jackson Lewis attorney.

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