During his first six months as mayor, Eric Adams built a reputation as a fixture in New York City nightlife.
So perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Mr. Adams has proposed changing the city’s zoning plans to make it easier for New Yorkers to dance in bars and restaurants.
Although the city had repealed the Cabaret Act, a 1926 ordinance that made it illegal to host dancing, singing, or musical entertainment without a license, the restrictions of the zoning laws prevented many establishments from allowing dancing.
“Think of the owner of a tapas bar who has live music on weekends and wants to reserve a small space for dancing, but finds it’s not allowed under city rules,” said Mr Adams during a speech to the Association for a Better World on Wednesday. New York. “We’re going to turn that no into a yes, and make the people dance.”
Supporting the city’s nightlife isn’t just about having fun, the mayor said. It’s also part of an effort to help small business owners who are still trying to recover from more than two years of the pandemic’s devastating effects on the economy.
But too many bars and restaurants are hampered by outdated zoning laws that ban dancing, among other things, Mr. Adams said Wednesday, adding that he planned to change outdated zoning plans that stood in the way of the city’s recovery.
“Far too many agencies fail to understand that part of their mandate is to make the city grow and prosper,” said Mr. Adams. “Don’t start with no. Start with how do we get to yes. How do we build our city?”
For example, the proposed changes to the city’s zoning plans would allow a small retailer looking to expand and sell to other businesses to do so without relocating to an area designated for manufacturing; they would allow homeowners to convert the second floor of their home into rental housing without adding a parking space; and the changes would make it easier to convert unused office space into housing.
Other zoning changes would make it easier to install solar panels and create charging stations for electric vehicles. Mr. Adams said the city also plans to use smart zoning to increase capabilities around four new Metro-North stations expected to open in the Bronx by 2027.
City planning officials will initiate a public engagement process to edit the language of the changes to the zoning plan text. An environmental study will take place for the proposed changes and the city council will have to approve the changes.
New York suffered as a result of the pandemic, but is beginning to see some job growth, said James Parrott, an economist at the Center for New York City Affairs at the New School. The city added 39,400 jobs in April, including 7,200 in the full-service restaurant industry
The zoning changes that make it legal for bars and restaurants to allow dancing are a continuation of the repeal of the 1926 Cabaret Act that made it illegal to host dancing, singing, or musical entertainment without a license. It is widely believed that the law was used to attack racially mixed jazz clubs in Harlem.
The rule was liberally applied to all locations of the city, and music was not allowed in bars without a cabaret license until 1936. The city required cabaret workers and performers to carry “cabaret cards” and also take fingerprints. An earlier police file could be used to turn down candidates for cabaret tickets, and famous musicians like Ray Charles and Billie Holiday were ineligible.
Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani used the cabaret law to enforce his quality of life initiatives, but Mayor Bill de Blasio repealed the law in 2017. Even after the law was repealed, the city’s zoning laws prevented dancing in some restaurants or bars.
The proposed changes will take dance out of consideration under zoning and will instead rely on indicators such as whether venues have coverage fees or show times and thus may require a permit, city officials said.
Ariel Palitz, executive director of the Bureau of Nightlife at the Mayor’s Office for Media and Entertainment, said in an email that Mr Adams was essentially running “unfinished business” left behind after the repeal of the cabaret law.
Major establishments that want to offer dance will still be subject to review if they apply for a liquor license and are subject to fire, noise and community regulations, said Keith Powers, the city council majority leader.
Entrepreneurs expressed relief at the coming changes.
“All these little, weird things affect how you work,” says Diana Mora, who helped found NYC Nightlife United and run Friends and Lovers in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. A fuller repeal of the cabaret law will help allay fears that even though companies try to follow the rules, “someone comes in, something is going to happen. You will be shut down.”
John Barclay, owner of Paragon, was involved with the Dance Liberation Network that pushed for the repeal of the cabaret law in 2017. He said the law was “enforced against highly predictable groups,” such as locations frequented by black and Latino people.
“If a law or regulation is based on clear bigoted intentions or if the results of its enforcement are clearly racist or in any way bigoted, it should be repealed without penalty,” he said.