The legislation was enacted in 1926, during the Harlem Renaissance, to prevent white and black people from dancing together. "There has been altogether too much running 'wild' in some of these night clubs," a City Council committee harrumphed at the time.
Over the years the law has been used to close clubs and bars deemed objectionable, especially during Mayor Rudy Giuliani's tenure in the 1990s. Today opponents say it is used to crack down on do-it-yourself clubs, and Muchmore said city officials sometimes deny club owners the liquor licenses they need to sustain a business if unauthorized dancing is uncovered.
Only about 100 businesses have a cabaret license in a city with about 25,000 restaurants and bars, according to city records. That suggests there's plenty of illegal dancing going on every night, but the de Blasio administration hasn't fined any clubs for violating the cabaret law for at least a year and a half.
Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg tried to have the cabaret law abolished at least twice. A big reason it endures is that community boards worry that a repeal will mean more clubs playing loud music late at night with crowds spilling onto the streets. Such quality-of-life issues have caused City Council attorneys to drag their feet in drafting a bill, according to Espinal, who said he has been unable to introduce legislation abolishing the law. "There is major concern in regard to safety," he said.