A battle is shaping up between late-night bars and Columbia residents who want to curb what they see as unsavory behavior spilling into their neighborhoods.
A number of Five Points bars have a prominent local attorney standing behind them as they prepare to fight a proposal to force them – and all bars across the city – to close their doors at 2 a.m. every night.
But they’re facing people like Tom Gottshall, a longtime University Hill resident who says late-night drinking in the Five Points entertainment district has turned into “chaos” that’s degrading residents’ quality of life.
“Frankly, Five Points needs adult supervision. It has gotten out of control,” Gottshall, president of the University Hill neighborhood council, told City Council members this week. His neighborhood sits between the University of South Carolina campus and Five Points.
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“The bars have overwhelmed Five Points,” he said. “This creates a lot of problems: noise, mayhem, antisocial behavior, vomiting on the sidewalks, public urination, all sorts of things that are not very nice.”
Neighborhoods near Five Points are “under assault” by a growing USC population that’s drinking in Five Points, Dick Harpootlian, a Columbia attorney living in Wales Garden, told council members.
In response to these Five Points-driven concerns, City Councilman Howard Duvall has proposed requiring all bars to stop selling alcohol at 2 a.m. every night. That move would repeal the city’s extended-hours permits that allow nearly two dozen bars across the city, including several outside of Five Points, to sell alcohol “until sunrise.”
But emotional arguments should not overshadow facts, or perhaps a lack thereof, that give no good reason for all bars to close at 2 a.m., says Joe McCulloch, a Columbia attorney who represents several Five Points bars.
“I don’t want the melodrama to color the conversation and get lost in words like ‘chaos’ and ‘assault,’” McCulloch told The State. “I think great liberty is taken in this discussion to say that everything evil happens because of 2 a.m. service, and I don’t think the statistics are going to bear all that out.”
McCulloch argues that USC and city leaders bear a great deal of responsibility in creating many of the quality-of-life issues residents are now complaining about. And a bar curfew, McCulloch said, is not the solution to underlying issues that include a rapidly growing population of college students and underage drinkers.
What’s more, there will be unintended consequences if the city closes all its bars at 2 a.m., McCulloch said. It could disperse the drinking population from the compact, easy-to-police Five Points area into much broader areas that are harder for police to monitor, he said.
“You can roll up the sidewalks, you can close up the street, and people aren’t going to bed, and they’re not going to stop drinking,” McCulloch said. “It’s my hope that the city is not saying they don’t have the ability to police the Five Points area. Because if that is the concession, then that is a bigger problem, and we need to address that problem in a whole other way.”
You can roll up the sidewalks, you can close up the street, and people aren’t going to bed, and they’re not going to stop drinking.
Joe McCulloch, attorney
The Five Points Association of businesses is willing to discuss the topic of closing times and “ways in which we can improve on our impact on the neighborhoods,” said Amy Beth Franks, director of the association.
Five Points’ residential neighbors “are a big part of who we are as a business district and a village,” Franks said. “When the neighborhoods have concerns and they bring them to us, we have always sat down with them to discuss and try to find a solution. What is going on right now with their wanting to eliminate extended-hours permitting is no different.”
Guiding the discussion moving forward, as head of City Council’s public safety committee, is a councilman who spent years in the restaurant business and doesn’t want to see all bars forced to close at 2 a.m. or any other time.
“How do you say that everything that happens in an area stems from people coming home at 2 a.m.?” said Councilman Daniel Rickenmann, who opposed the city’s bar closing ordinance in 2011 when it was first adopted. That’s when council decided to require bars to close at 2 a.m. unless they met certain conditions for an extended-hours permit to allow them to serve alcohol all night.
If there are problems with enforcing the city’s current law and extended-hours conditions, then city leaders should correct those problems or tweak the law, Rickenmann said.
Rickenmann’s public safety committee will meet at 10 a.m. Feb. 6 at City Hall, 1737 Main St., to discuss the bar closing ordinance. The meeting is open to the public.
Columbia bars allowed to serve alcohol past 2 a.m.
Current as of November 2017
▪ Night Caps, 2722 Devine St.
▪ Bar None, 620 Harden St.
▪ Lucky’s, 2100 Devine St.
▪ The Bird Dog, 715 Devine St.
▪ Breakers Bar & Grill, 801 Harden St.
▪ Breakers Live, 805 Harden St.
▪ Canton Restaurant & Lounge, 6420 Garners Ferry Road
▪ Group Therapy, 2107 Greene St.
▪ Jake’s, 2112 Devine St.
▪ The Cotton Gin, 632 Harden St.
▪ Latitude 22, 636 Harden St.
▪ Moosehead Saloon, 2020 Devine St.
▪ Five Points Saloon, 812 Harden St.
▪ Pavlov’s, 2000 Greene St.
▪ Cover 3, 711 Harden St.
▪ The Horseshoe, 724 Harden St. (pending documentation)
▪ The Whig, 1200 Main St.
▪ Rooftop Bar and Lounge, 638 Harden St.
▪ The Barn, 707 Harden St.
▪ The Thirsty Parrot, 734 Harden St.
▪ Tin Roof, 1022 Senate St.
Source: City of Columbia