No, it’s not “Footloose.” It’s New York City in 2017, and moving to a pounding beat in a bar or club that’s not designated for dancing could get a venue owner fined or worse.
That’s been the case since 1926, in the middle of Prohibition, when the city sought to regulate large, presumably alcohol-fueled private parties in speakeasies, homes or other spaces to keep them from running out of control.
According to the city’s Department of Consumer Affairs, all spaces where patrons pay to dine, drink or watch musical performances, singing, dancing or any other form of entertainment must have a cabaret license. The law restricts most cabarets and clubs to nonresidential areas of the city. The department says it has issued about 100 licenses.
But artists and others who sometimes organize impromptu gatherings that may include drinking, dancing or entertainment are frustrated by what they see as an overbearing law.
Olympia Kazi from the NYC Artist Coalition has been fighting the law, which she said restricted informal creative spaces for artists. “It doesn’t make sense to have every New Yorker break the law,” she said.
Cabaret licenses, which require applicants to obtain a series of approvals from various city agencies, are subject to renewal every two years. They can cost as little as $150 for small spaces, or more than $1,200 for larger ones.
A consumer affairs spokeswoman said the agency would not comment on the criticism because of unspecified pending litigation.
Lauren Murada, who does publicity for the Good Room, an electronic music club in Brooklyn with a cabaret license, said the old law needed to be adapted to a changing climate for entertainment.
“I think it’s really silly,” she said. “It’s unfair for new venues who are trying to provide a place for people to dance and enjoy themselves.”