California Restaurant Locked in 'Footloose'-Esque Battle to Let Its Patrons Dance

When enjoying the live music of Shrimper Dan and the Bottom Feeders, you’d better stay in your seat WITH YOUR FEET FLAT ON THE FLOOR, YOUNG MAN.
Photo via Flickr user VV Nincic

For four long months, undercover officers took part in an important investigation in Encinitas, California. During this long process, they risked their safety—and possibly their sanity—to collect information on a threat that had been reported on sections of Coast Highway 101, stretching from the beach to unnamed locations several blocks inland. For 16 long weeks, they endured Country Music Thursdays, weekend Jazz Jams, and amateur open-mic nights, all so they could protect their citizens from people who might’ve been dancing at Mr. Peabody’s Bar & Grill.

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According to KGTV, Encinitas passed a No Dancing ordinance in 1986 that city councilmen hoped would prevent strip clubs and dance clubs from being built in the city, or to “dissuade people from behaving lewdly” in the city’s bars and restaurants. More than 30 years later, that ordinance still exists, and if bar patrons start moving rhythmically to the music, the bar’s owners could face a four-figure fine. That’s what happened to Mr. Peabody’s in September; owner Brie Cardosa told the San Diego Reader that she’s only recently finished paying that $3,000 to the California Alcohol Beverage Control board.

Agents from the ABC board told Cardosa that her joint had been fined because it “allowed” dancing, and in addition to ensuring that her customers remain literally unmoved by any of the nightly music acts, the regulations also say that there can’t be more than four musicians onstage at any time. “We were told [the fines] could even include a group of people standing, swaying to the music,” she said. “It ended our Jam Nights; Blues Jam, Jazz Jam, all our Jams had to be canceled.”

So yeah, if you’re listening to Shrimper Dan and the Bottom Feeders, Snake Oil Gypsies, or PinkEye, you’d better stay in your seat WITH YOUR FEET FLAT ON THE FLOOR, YOUNG MAN. Cardosa’s next step is to submit a long-ass application for an “entertainment establishment permit”—also known as a cabaret license—to the city and to the Sheriff’s Department but, in the meantime, she’s launched an online petition urging the city to repeal its anti-dancing ordinance. (There are a lot of Footloose references in the comments).

As backwards as this sounds, requiring bars or restaurants to purchase a cabaret license isn’t new, and it’s not limited to Encinitas. New York City still has a cabaret license on the books, one that dates back to 1926, when then-mayor Jimmy Walker hoped to crack down on illegal speakeasies during Prohibition. But the law was soon twisted into a way to needlessly hassle black jazz musicians whose “cabaret cards” could be revoked at any time, for any reason. The cabaret card system was abolished in 1967, and the city removed its “no more than three musicians onstage” restriction in 1986—right when Encinitas was cracking down on dancing within its own city limits.

“We just don’t want to get in trouble if we’re dancing or if someone starts moving around,” Cardosa told KGTV. “We don’t want to tell them that they can’t dance. It’s such a difficult type thing to explain to someone.”

Especially in the 21st century.