Why New York’s New “Mayor of the Night” Is Such a Smart Move

A sign to repeal NYC's Cabaret Law is seen posted at the Brooklyn venue Secret Project Robot.
A sign to repeal NYC’s Cabaret Law is seen posted at the Brooklyn venue Secret Project Robot .
Angela Weiss/Getty Images

On Wednesday, New York City mayor Bill de Blasio tapped Ariel Palitz to fill what might be the coolest public-sector job that currently exists: Nightlife Mayor of New York City. Palitz is a fifth-generation New Yorker, former owner of the “undisputed champion of noise complaints in the East Village,” and now the official representative for bars, clubs, and other nocturnal venues across the city. With a cushy $130,000 salary, she’ll head up the city’s Office of Nightlife which, according to the New York Times, was created by de Blasio in September to “promote the industry and soothe the strained relations between the city’s night spots and the neighborhoods that complain about their merriment.”

In her first official act as Mayor of the Night, Palitz has promised to go on a series of listening tours to hear from residents irritated by vomit on their stoops and the carousers who produce said vomit. And while some scoffed at what they saw as a waste of public resources or the fact that Palitz seems to live a Manhattan-centric life reminiscent of Carrie Bradshaw (nightlife in Brooklyn is arguably more central to the city these days), the move to create a Mayor of Nightlife is unquestionably wise for NYC, and one that other cities should emulate.

But first, some context: The creation of the Office of Nightlife came about a month before the long-overdue repeal of New York’s “Cabaret Law” in late 2017. Palitz’s tenure will begin in the shadows of a nearly century long ban on dancing in more than 24,000 of the city’s eating and drinking establishments, a ban that while inconsistently enforced in recent years nonetheless had a chilling effect across the city. The Cabaret Law was enacted in 1926 primarily to crack down on the proliferation of speakeasies in the era of Prohibition, but critics contend that the law was aimed squarely at repressing racially mixed jazz bars in Harlem. In the ‘90s, the Cabaret Law was used to shut down much of the city’s dance club scene as part of Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s campaign to ostensibly increase quality of life in the city. (And as with most of Giuliani’s “Broken Windows”-style policies, the law was enforced unequally.) As recently as 2013, a Williamsburg bar was slapped with a cabaret violation because a police officer caught patrons “swaying” at a rock show.

“If you’re Latino, if you’re black, if you’re from the LGBTQ community, you all have been impacted by this law,” said City Councilman Rafael Espinal, a Brooklyn Democrat who introduced both the legislation to repeal the law and the idea for Night Mayor. “It is time we right this historical wrong and remove New York’s inappropriate and arbitrarily enforced dancing licensing.”

With the repeal of the law in October (which was met with general applause and yes, dancing), and the creation of the Office of Nightlife, there’s now an additional mediating force between adversarial community boards and patrons of the city’s nightlife that doesn’t involve the police—and herein lies the initiative’s genius.

What makes urban spaces like New York so dynamic is the presence of both an all-night party scene and quiet family neighborhoods—respectful coexistence is a must if the city wants to remain attractive to a wide range of residents. For any city to maintain this sort of dynamism, especially amid the tensions of gentrification, mediator roles like Palitz’s are vital. In London, for example, a similar “night czar” backed campaigns that kept LGBTQ venues from closing, and in Amsterdam, the nachtburgemeester instituted 24-hour venues on the outskirts of the city, which not only decreased congestion in the city center but also created a dedicated nighttime district with flexible hours. Other than her listening tour, Palitz hasn’t revealed what she has planned as she transitions into her new role, but one hopes that similarly inventive interventions and compromises will spill out of her office, like so many party-goers onto the sidewalk after last call.