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The New Nightlife Mayor Has Arrived – Where Do We Go from Here?

The New Nightlife Mayor Has Arrived – Where Do We Go from Here?


The New Nightlife Mayor Has Arrived – Where Do We Go from Here?
March 23, 2018 NiteLife Exchange Ad Lib on NiteLife 0

NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio signs legislation to repeal the Cabaret Law November 27, 2017. Edwin J. Torres/Mayoral Photography Office.
By Marilyn Lester**** Nightlife, the naughty stepchild of live entertainment, may finally be finding redemption and validation with the long-awaited repeal of the so-called “Cabaret Law” and the creation of the City Office of Nightlife. Mayor Bill de Blasio signed the legislation to appoint a New York Nightlife Mayor into law in September 2017, followed by the repeal of the Cabaret Law in November. We are now at a turning point in which really significant opportunities for the cabaret community are on the horizon.
But to figure out where we’re going, let’s take a look at where we’ve been.
Throughout history, many have called this great City the “cultural capital of the world.” New York has always been a crucible of the arts and place of artistic innovation––yet, there’s been a deep, pervasive belief that nothing good happens after dark. Nightlife, born in the post-World War I era, had the great misfortune to enter the scene when the moralists of the day were campaigning for Prohibition. Prior to 1918, nightlife was geared mainly to saloons (where women weren’t allowed), vaudeville, theatre and organized dances. A few tony restaurants offered entertainment with dining, but not many. There were no real nightclubs, supper clubs or cabaret rooms in existence. Then the Jazz Age arrived and with it, a free-spirited mixing of genders and races. “Jazz,” obs

erved the great Duke Ellington, “has always been like the kind of a man you wouldn’t want your daughter to associate with.” The conservatives of the day certainly thought so and in 1926, in the midst of the Harlem Renaissance, with venues such as the Cotton Club thriving, the New York City Cabaret Law was passed. Some historians say the law was motivated by racism. Others dispute that view. Sidney Myer, one of the original members of The Manhattan Association of Cabarets & Clubs (MAC) who managed the late lamented Panache for years, an Award-winning performer and currently the booking manager at Don’t Tell Mama, called the racist aspect of the law a “subplot.” He also believed that anti-gay sentiment was part of what motivated the law to be enforced for so long.
The Cabaret Law made it illegal to host “musical entertainment, singing, dancing or other forms of amusement” without a special cabaret license in New York City. That license was tantamount to the Twelve Labors of Hercules and obtaining it was hugely expensive and time-consuming, requiring the approval of several City agencies. Cabaret licenses were granted only to businesses in commercial or manufacturing zones. All applicants for the license had to be fingerprinted and provide extensive financial records, plus meet (and maintain) standards regarding fire, building, electrical and health codes, which all had fees attached. Inconsistent enforcement made it hard to obtain permits and worse, once the license was obtained, the slightest infraction could mean losing it.

Cabaret Card of Bo Diddley
Beginning in 1940 (and lasting until 1967), the New York Police Department issued regulations requiring musicians and other employees in cabarets to obtain a New York City Cabaret Card. Without it, no performer could legally work in any live entertainment establishment. Another obstacle was added in 1971, when the Cabaret Law was modified, limiting the number of musicians permitted to play on a stage to three. Only pianos, organs, accordions, guitars or any other type of stringed instrument were allowed. Since drums, reeds and horns were not allowed, jazz musicians suffered the most and jazz clubs received constant fines.
Jamie deRoy, former President of MAC and credited with firmly establishing MAC  as a moving force and a well-respected entertainment organization, remembered being in Reno Sweeney at this time when Marsha Malamet was performing with a piano and back-up singer. “Peter Allen, who was Marsha’s writing partner on several songs. including “Love Don’t Need A Reason,” spontaneously jumped onto the stage to sing a song he just wrote with Marsha,” deRoy said. “The audience was thrilled, but Lewis Friedman, who owned the club, was shaking in his boots – afraid a police raid would shut him down.” Surprise police raids were a part of the business then. It was not uncommon for a squad of policemen to suddenly burst into a venue and order everyone off the stage, often closing down the club immediately. The shutdown time was variable and many clubs went out of business because of that. Sidney Myer called it a “hateful time, like the McCarthy era for nightclubs.” DeRoy testified before New York City government and said she “was never so nervous in my life and scared! I don’t know why,” she added. Myer emphatically said that these times were fearful indeed. The three musician rule was challenged almost from the outset, with the musician’s union, Local 802 and MAC both putting pressure on City Hall to repeal the law. Publicist Penny Landau, Founding Charter Member of MAC, recounted the story of literally fighting City Hall. “The city tried to enforce all sorts of rules, especially during an election year. When I repped the Duplex, they came in to count chairs and cited the club for not having an ‘open flame permit’ and blew out all the candles on the tables in the upstairs room. I was standing in the back of the room with the late Bob Harrington, premiere cabaret critic and writer and we asked the inspector why they were doing this. She replied, ‘Well, it’s an election year and it just trickles down.’ That was the most absurd thing we had ever heard and Bob proceeded to write the first of many columns about the City and their treatment of the cabaret community.” Eventually, Local 802 prevailed and in 1986, the limits on types of instruments were ruled unconstitutional via the lawsuit Warren Chiasson v. New York City Department of Consumer Affairs. The three-musician law was struck down. In addition, there was never a chair counting, nor any further discussion about candles on tables, ever again.
In the Rudolph Giuliani years, from 1994 through 2001, nightlife was especially demonized. The Mayor reinstituted the 3-musician rule, forcing some clubs into using taped music, Myer recalled. Giuliani also enacted new regulations and cracked down on the part of the law that decreed there couldn’t be more than three people dancing in a space without a cabaret license. DeRoy remembers places being shut down because of police raids occurring during luckless times when a few giddy patrons might be expressing themselves with body movement around a bar area. In at least one club, an exuberant dan

cing bartender caused an immediate shutdown.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg quietly accelerated a crackdown on New York City’s nightlife, with new policies that regulated the industry. In the face of protests, in 2003, Department of Consumer Affairs Commissioner Gretchen Dykstra proposed repealing the law, but to no avail. At the time, Myer was quoted in the trade paper, BackStage, saying, “It always strikes me as peculiar that in articles on the ‘cabaret laws’ there’s never a footnote for the reader to see that what the code refers to is not a cabaret in the sense we know it today. It’s as if rooms like ours simply don’t exist.” DeRoy added that the little rooms were most affected by the law. “Big rooms had the money to back themselves up,” she said.
Finally, now, 91 years on since the Cabaret Law was passed, the nightlife industry is being called out of the shadows. This great lifeblood of the city has received its official blessing. Ariel Palitz, the former owner of the Sutra nightclub, has been appointed Senior Executive Director of the Office of Nightlife, the new City agency whose creation is owed to Brooklyn city councilman Rafael Espinal, who drafted the legislation in May 2017. The concept, based on a model first launched in Amsterdam in 2014, has enabled the appointment of “Nightlife Mayors” in 30 other cities worldwide.

What does the repeal of the Cabaret Law and the new Nightlife Mayor bode for the future of cabaret in New York City? A former club owner stated that clubs had to “look over their collective shoulders because there was a fine line that could easily be crossed,”  also noting “there will always be a need for regulation based on common sense, but the repeal of the law will open the way for venues to breathe easier and support full expression of song and dance, which is the foundation and the core of entertainment and expression.”
MAC president and cabaret performer/director, Lennie Watts, reasoned that even though the Cabaret Law was antiquated, it had no real effect on modern cabaret and that the only part of the law that affected cabaret rooms was the three musicians rule. Longtime cabaret activist, Scott Barbarino, publisher of NiteLife Exchange as well as booker at Iridium and a MAC Award-winning performer, had a different point of view, forged from the barricades of fighting the law. “The repeal of the law takes away fear, anxiety and complication,” he said. “This means it becomes easier for those with room in their establishments to put in a cabaret space without red tape, paperwork, rules and special licenses. It was too much already.”
With a $300,000 budget, “Nightlife Mayor” Ariel Palitz has the clout to shape New York City nightlife. Her office will act as an industry ombudsman, to help with licenses and permits and will also include a 12-person Advisory Board consisting of cabaret and nightlife industry members, along with community members, to handle all matters connected with City nightlife. A recent economic study of New York City’s nightlife industry estimates an annual impact of $10 billion on the City’s economy, with admissions to nightlife venues totaling three times more than the attendance of all sporting teams combined. The potential to create a renewed, thriving cabaret culture is filled with endless possibilities.
However, the question remains: who will comprise this 12-member panel? We, Nightlife Exchange, suggest leaders in the cabaret community convene to come up with a list of those qualified to be considered to represent the cabaret community on the Advisory Board as the Office of Nightlife goes forward.
City Establishes Nightlife Advisory Panel and Office of NightlifeSeptember 21, 2017In "Cabaret"
Night #3 of the Mabel Mercer Foundation Cabaret Convention – the Once and Future Age of CabaretOctober 19, 2017In "Ad Lib on NiteLife"
Marta Sanders Takes the Lead in "Follow Me" at The BeechmanNovember 18, 2016In "Cabaret"

Jim Eigo Jazz Promo Services T: 845-986-1677 E-Mail: jim@jazzpromoservices.com



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