This New Year’s Eve falls on a Sunday, triggering 40-year-old legislation that prohibits dancing and music on that day of the week.
As a result, dozens of restaurants and bars are nixing their usual New Year’s Eve parties, forgoing what’s usually one of their most profitable business days in the process.
According to the Music and Dancing (Control) Law, premises that sell food or refreshments are not allowed to permit dancing or the playing of music during Good Fridays, Christmas, and Sundays. Cinemas, town halls and hotels that are not open to the general public are exempt from the prohibition.
“I’m afraid, by law, music and dancing are prohibited on Sunday,” Premier Alden McLaughlin confirmed when contacted by the Compass. “Neither the Liquor Licensing Board nor Cabinet have any discretion in the matter.”
Liquor Licensing Board Chairman Noel Williams said that on Jan. 1 at 12:01 a.m., music and dancing will again be permitted. To make up for the New Year’s Eve ban, the liquor board will likely extend the hours establishments can stay open until “3 or 4 a.m.,” he said. Mr. Williams said the Liquor Licensing Board will soon make an announcement on the issue.
But extending the party hours into early Monday morning will not make up for the businesses that cater to the “mature” crowd that likes to go home after the ball drops, said Markus Mueri, who owns Deckers Bar, KARoo Cayman and Abacus at Camana Bay.
“The board [may grant] a blanket extension for everybody until 4 a.m., but by that time we have only youngsters out and about,” he said. “Let us old-timers celebrate in style in the lead-up to midnight with a good dance and a smile, watch the fireworks, have a glass of bubbles, and be tucked into bed by 1 a.m.”
Royal Palms general manager Don Loyd said his establishment usually has a VIP area, a general admission area around the beach bar and a private party by the pool – with all three spots featuring DJs and dancing.
Mr. Loyd will have to forego the entertainment this year, and he said he expects Royal Palms to only take in about a third of the revenue that it would on a typical New Year’s Eve as a result.
Resident Tenisha Bodden said that she and her friends usually go to Royal Palms or a similar place for New Year’s Eve, but are considering renting a condo on the beach this year, instead. Without live music and dancing, it makes little sense to pay for an admission ticket to a bar, she said.
Cayman Cabana owner Luigi Moxam said that he had hoped for the best but prepared for the worst in terms of the Sunday dance and music ban. Accordingly, he did not hire out any live entertainment, and plans on closing his restaurant shortly after midnight to let his staff enjoy the rest of the holiday.
“It’s unfortunate that they’re playing politics because it affects business. If everyone is to be honest, they would all agree that there has to be some common sense denominator to make things work,” he said. “Who wants to come to Cayman when you can’t dance until midnight?”
Not all businesses may be aware of the policy, which government has yet to publicly articulate. When this reporter contacted Luciano De Riso, head of operations at The Wharf, his restaurant had “DJ Ralph” advertised on its website to play music from 8 p.m. on New Year’s Eve.
But after notifying Mr. De Riso of government’s policy, he said DJ Ralph and accompanying fireworks would have to wait until after midnight.
“In cases like this, we’ll have to go ahead and play background music until after midnight,” he said, adding, “It’s another disappointing thing that I’m finding out about the law from the Compass.”
Mr. De Riso said the aspect of the ban he dislikes most is that it does not apply to hotels. The law states that exempted premises include “areas in hotels which are not open to the general public and with respect to which no charge is made for admission.”
Mr. De Riso added that the ban also hurts local entertainers, who would otherwise be able to use the event to earn extra cash and name recognition.
For establishments that may still be unaware of the ban – or those that may choose to ignore it – the Compass enquired with the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service as to whether it intends to enforce the prohibition on music and dancing.
“It is not up to us to comment on the decision itself,” responded police information officer Jacqueline Carpenter, adding, “Our duties are to enforce what the laws are and ensure that we have in place the appropriate resources and plans to ensure public safety.”
The RCIPS has enforced the ban in the past, according to Compass archives.
When New Year’s Eve was on a Saturday in 2005, police reportedly showed up at The Wharf around 11:45 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 30, to make sure that the premises were vacated before Sunday struck. Former Wharf owner Clemens Guettler said at the time that his business was down more than 50 percent from a typical New Year’s Eve.
The last time New Year’s Eve fell on a Sunday was 2006. That year, government announced in October that music and dancing would not be allowed until 12:01 a.m. on Jan. 1. A Compass article noted that government announced its decision in October “to give the business community ample time to make their holiday plans.”
“The Cabinet has recently considered the matter and has decided on what it believes is a sensible approach, which honors religious and cultural norms while balancing the importance of New Year’s Eve activities for those residents and visitors who wish to celebrate at licensed establishments,” then-Cabinet Minister Charles Clifford said at the time.
When New Year’s Eve was again set for a Saturday, several years later in 2011, lawmakers scrambled weeks before to amend the law to allow for businesses to stay open into Sunday, Jan. 1, 2012.
A proposed amendment to the Music and Dancing (Control) Law would have allowed the liquor board to “grant permission for dancing and the playing of music, on or in [liquor] licensed premises outside of permitted hours on any given day.”
Government ended up partially liberalizing the Music and Dancing (Control) Law, but only to give the liquor board the power to allow music and dancing “when New Year’s Eve falls on a Saturday” – not a Sunday.
The Liquor Licensing Board exercised its new authority that year, permitting restaurants and hotels to play music until 2 a.m. on the Sunday, Jan. 1, 2012, and for nightclubs to have music and dancing until 3 a.m. on that day.
New Year’s Eve also fell on a Saturday last year, and the liquor board essentially treated that day as a Friday night, extending operating hours for bars and restaurants to 2 a.m., and to 4 a.m. for nightclubs.
The next time New Year’s Eve will fall on a Sunday is in 2023.