The owner of a Williamsburg nightclub cannot take much more of the city’s cabaret law.
The proprietor of Muchmore’s, a bar that regularly books bands, said the old-timey law prohibiting more than three people from dancing in a business without the owner holding a permit threatens not only his livelihood, but the rights of American people to freedom of boogie assembly. The barkeep, who is also an attorney, is now suing the city in federal court to overturn the cabaret law on constitutional grounds after a crackdown that he says has left him scared to hire acts that might incite toe-tapping or, god forbid, rump shaking.
“I am doing this because it is an unjust law that needs to be struck down,” said Andrew Muchmore. “I want to expand the First Amendment to apply to new areas, and this would help do that.”The suit comes after cops waltzed into Muchmore’s, on Havemeyer Street between N. Eighth and N. Ninth streets, one night in 2013 and ticketed Muchmore for supposedly sidestepping the cabaret law, he said. The owner said he was not in at the time, so he did not see exactly how his patrons were allegedly moving, but he was excited to cross-examine the cop and planned to ask him to demonstrate on the stand.
“It was a rock show, so I do not imagine that people were dancing, but maybe they were swaying,” Muchmore said. “But what is the line between swaying and dancing? Do they have to be doing the jitterbug? I really wanted to know.”Unfortunately for Muchmore, but fortunately for his business, a judge threw the citation out on a technicality, he said. But ever since, the nightlife crusader has avoided booking disc jockeys or bands that could get bar-goers’ bodies moving, he said.
“If it is illegal to have people dancing, it limits what kind of music you can perform,” said Muchmore. “You cannot have dance music or pop music or electronic.”
Musicians agree that the 1926 law, which they say was originally put on the books to prevent interracial flirtation at Harlem jazz clubs, needs to be consigned to the history books as soon as possible.
“It is completely archaic and stupid, and I am shocked that it is still around,” said Russ Marshalek, who is also known by the disc-jockey name A Place Both Wonderful and Strange. “I am always looking for new or weird or interesting spots to perform, and this law limits me from having this kind of mind set.”
Out of the city’s more than 25,000 bars, only 147, or less than one percent, have a current cabaret license, Muchmore said.
A rep for the city said it has not yet seen the paperwork for the case and declined to comment.