Billy is a punk.
Just before 10 p.m. on Tuesday night, in front of a packed crowd at Bushwick's House of Yes, Mayor Bill de Blasio signed a law establishing the country's first ever Office of Nightlife, to be headed by a yet-to-be named "Night Mayor."
Addressing one hundred or so venue owners, promoters, party advocates and artists, including Marky Ramone, the mayor lamented the city's past harassment of nightlife, and promised that the new office would "wield tremendous power."
"For me the punk movement was tremendously important and spoke to my heart, because we were trying to sort out the world," de Blasio said, before bragging about seeing the Clash at Bond's Casino in 1981. "There was something amazing happening here in America, and first and foremost that was about the Ramones."
He continued, "There was a time in this city's history where these venues were not only challenged, but there was a systematic effort to undercut them. A lot of who we are as a city was undermined...and one of the big reasons was that it was hard to navigate the rules and restrictions that in some cases went too far."
As envisioned by Councilmember Rafael Espinal, the Night Mayor is meant to act as a liaison between City Hall and New York's $10 billion nightlife industry, while also serving on behalf of the city's remaining DIY venues (Espinal specifically cites Shea Stadium's closing as the inspiration for his bill). In recent years, at least 30 cities across the world have established similar positions, all of them based off Amsterdam's widely praised Nachtburgemeester.
"It's going to be even better in a place as cool as New York City," the mayor said, as a few dozen costumed guests, and one large peacock, filed into an adjacent room for a bordello-themed poetry night. "Bottom line is this will help our neighborhoods, and help our nightlife community feel supported."
America's first Night Mayor is the manifestation of a growing nightlife advocacy movement, largely driven by recent efforts to get rid of NYC's reviled cabaret law. Though de Blasio didn't mention it Tuesday, a mayoral advisor threw City Hall's support behind the repeal effort during a City Council hearing last week, on the condition that certain security requirements be met. Between January of 2016 and April of 2017, 36 city bars and restaurants forked over around $40,000 in fines to the state for allowing patrons to dance without a license, according to DNAinfo.
"I do feel as if there's a general change in the air, that these things will have a lasting and measurable effect," said Justin Ahiyon, one of the owners of House of Yes. The venue — a briefly shuttered "hippie-punk-squat house," whose parties these days skew toward circus-based erotica — is one of many spaces operating in fear of the city's archaic rules and arbitrary enforcement, according to founder Anya Sapozhnikova.
"It's absolutely terrifying when you're trying to create a safe space for people of all types to come together and dance and celebrate life, and in the back of your mind you know it could get shut down for no reason at all," Sapozhnikova said. "To have the city in support of us is going to do incredible things."
Just about everyone in attendance seemed to echo Sapozhnikova's optimism, even if some were more guarded about what sort of impact the office could have in the short term.
"I think there's a necessity for the city, on an institutional level, to endorse the fact that nightlife is important, even if that endorsement may be by definition lip service," Todd Patrick, owner of the oft-raided Market Hotel, told Gothamist. "The reality is this is a city with a lot of moving parts in the way regulation works, so for folks that are carrying out enforcement to see the mayor supporting us has real consequences."
"We had the mayor three feet from [Councilmember] Espinal while he shouted out Shea Stadium and 285 Kent and Death by Audio — places that had to operate in an underground way because of the city's regulations," Patrick added. "It doesn't change everything, but it's a good first step."