COLUMBIA, SC — The owner of a controversial Five Points bar has given up its alcohol license, told Columbia officials he plans to close, and the location is up for rent.
Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott last fall called the bar a central hangout for a national gang and said its closing would change the climate of violence in the entertainment district overnight.
But the club at 804 Harden St. has remained open until recently, operating most recently under the name Club Twist.
The business’s state license to sell alcoholic beverages at the bar, previously known as The Library, was turned in on May 10, an official with the S.C. Department of Revenue said Wednesday.
The license had been under the name The Library, not the newer name, said Jean Funches, a taxpayer rights advocate with the revenue department.
The owner-operator of the club, Justin Kershner, also had been in arrears on business taxes owed to the state. But all state taxes have been paid, to the tune of $30,663, Funches said.
Efforts by The State on Wednesday to reach Kershner were unsuccessful.
Kershner also told city business license officials on May 19 that he intended to close the club.
The business license remained active as of Wednesday, however, said licensing director Roger Myers. “It’s actually up to him to close the license,” Myers said. “We actually asked him to bring us something in writing.”
During his office visit, Kershner did not say whether he plans to open another club, Myers said.
The location in the heart of Five Points has a “For Rent” sign posted in a window. The out-of-state telephone number provided on the sign has a recorded message from Frank Barco. Barco, whose family has been in business in Five Points for decades, has not responded to a message left on Friday by a reporter from The State.
Lott connected the club to gangs in November after an undercover investigation by his deputies. The entertainment district that is popular with college and high school students had been plagued with a rash of nighttime shootings, robberies and other crimes.
Deputies recognized known gang members, Lott said in a news conference. The gang, which he did not name, has claimed Five Points as its territory, especially after midnight, he said. Members start fights and hunt people to rob while rival gangs compete to stake their own claims on the area, Lott said at the time.
The day after the sheriff’s announcement, the state revenue agency told Kershner he owed $19,000 in back taxes immediately or he risked losing his license to serve alcohol.
On Nov. 15, Kershner changed the corporate name on his July 1, 2013, city business license to Harden Bar Group. The license remains under that name, Myers said Wednesday.
Two days after the name change – which Kershner said was designed to change the club’s image – the city shut it down for operating without a proper permit. That ticket later was withdrawn.
Kershner had told The State newspaper he borrowed $19,000 to pay the taxes.
Revenue Department figures show he has paid the nearly $31,000 that was due.
The club also has satisfied code violations discovered by the city of Columbia during a surprise inspection in March of bars around the city.
Fire chief Aubrey Jenkins said on Friday that Columbia has no pending code violations against Club Twist.
Reach LeBlanc at (803) 771-8664.