New York’s ‘Night Mayor’ Plan Pushes Underground Venues Into the Spotlight

Print More

Madeleine Crenshaw.

The Cabaret Law, a Prohibition-era regulation that prohibits dancing where alcohol is served, requires venues to have a license that only a small percentage of spaces are able to obtain.

Last month, Mayor Bill de Blasio signed a bill that will establish a new office to oversee New York’s nightlife. The city will join Amsterdam, Berlin, London and Paris, among 26 other cities that have incorporated an official position to oversee its after-hours.

But some local venue owners and community organizers are worried the Office of Nightlife will do little to protect artists from the impact of real-estate development that threatens dramatic change to the city’s cultural map.

“We can’t say that we think artists are important and then tear down an entire waterfront of studios to put in high end condos,” says Rachel Nelson at an open town hall meeting for the night mayor last week. Nelson is the co-founder of Secret Project Robot, a music venue where alternative bands such as TV on the Radio and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs got their start.

Nelson is one of the many people involved in the D.I.Y. space community. A D.I.Y. space is a small venue such as a concert space or gallery that is formed by artists who feel there is no room for the freedom to express themselves. The majority of New York’s D.I.Y. spaces are in Brooklyn and tend to operate illegally due to lack of resources.

But Rafael Espinal, a New York City councilmember who created the bill, says he designed the Office of Nightlife with underground venues in mind. “When I created the bill for the Office of Nightlife I stressed from the beginning: The one thing we have to focus on is bringing the D.I.Y. spaces and cultural spaces out of the bureaucratic shadows,” Espinal says.

The Office of Nightlife is intended to work as a liaison between venues, the government and the people of New York. The agency will be housed under the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment and will have a “night mayor” in charge of a 12-member board.

Espinal also worked with D.I.Y. community members on a bill to repeal the Cabaret Law, a Prohibition-era regulation that prohibits dancing where alcohol is served. The antiquated law requires venues to have a license only a small percentage of spaces are able to obtain. Activists argue that the Cabaret Law is discriminatory and infringing upon the rights of New Yorker’s to express themselves.

“Our art is not protected by the First Amendment,” says Brian Polite of Afro Mosaic Soul, an organization that advocates for safe dance spaces.

Espinal says he has worked closely with the organizations such as Afro Mosaic Soul to ensure that these spaces get a voice in City Hall. The councilmember’s efforts have prompted the government to review the Cabaret Law and consider its relevance. “The administration is committed to repealing the Cabaret Law,” says Shira Gans, the senior director of the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment.

Gans says that the administration is in the selection process for both the ‘night mayor’ position and the advisory board.

“We are casting a very wide net and very wide search for these positions,” says Gans.

Madeleine Crenshaw


Brandon Sheffield, 26, a creative producer, dances the night away at an underground club. Any form of dancing is prohibited in New York City unless the venue has a Cabaret license.

* * *

City Limits’ reporting on the intersection of art and policy is supported by the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund. City Limits is solely responsible for all content. 

One thought on “New York’s ‘Night Mayor’ Plan Pushes Underground Venues Into the Spotlight

  1. Pingback: Some Fear ‘Night Mayor’ Won’t Represent All – New York City News Service

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *