The bar wars in Five Points are heating up.
Two residents of neighborhoods near Five Points are challenging the operating permits of two new Five Points bars – an action that could cause them to close after just 120 days in business.
Attorneys Tom Gottshall of the University Hill neighborhood and April Lucas of the Shandon community oppose the extension of permanent operating permits for the Five Points Roost, formerly Pour House, and Rooftop, formerly The Attic.
“These are unsuitable locations for a bar and unsuitable people to run them,” said attorney Dick Harpootlian, who is representing Gottshall and Lucas.
The challenge is the latest crusade by Harpootlian, a resident of the Wales Garden neighborhood near Five Points, and other neighborhood leaders to reel in what they say is a party district gone wild. The village is home to 30 bars in a one-third mile radius, Harpootlian said, 13 of which can stay open past the city’s 2 a.m. closing time.
There is also a push by some City Council members, backed by the neighborhood groups, to eliminate the special permits that allows some bars to stay open until 4 a.m. every night except Saturday, when all bars must close at 2 a.m.. Also, the Five Points Association wants to prevent any new “college” bars from opening in the district.
“Our major argument is there are too many bars in Five Points,” said Harpootlian, one of the city’s top lawyers and a former head of the state Democratic Party.
Harpootlian also headed an effort that earlier this week blocked fast-food restaurant Zaxby’s from coming into the urban village near the University of South Carolina.
The Roost and Rooftop bars had been operating with temporary, 120-day alcoholic beverage permits since their purchase and renovation by new owners Adam Ruonala and Steven Bland. There will be a hearing before an administrative law judge on Feb. 20 to determine whether the permits should be made permanent.
Ruonala invited Harpootlian and his clients to visit the bars and see the renovations and safety improvements the new owners have made.
“Our practices are something that should become the norm in Five Points,” he said. “And we would invite Mr. Harpootlian to come visit us and witness firsthand the positive changes we’re making.”
The Pour House had a controversial and violent history.
After it opened at 800 Harden St. in 2006, Columbia police made 646 arrests at that address through April 2017. The charges ranged from underage drinking and drunkenness to aggravated assault.
The most public incident was the choking on St. Patrick’s Day last year of 22-year-old USC student Ryan Chisolm. Former Pour House owner Dan Wells is accused of choking Chisolm and dropping him to the ground outside of the bar’s front door.
Chisolm’s jaw was broken in four places after he became unconscious and his head hit the sidewalk. Wells is charged with assault and battery.
The Pour House closed in May 2017.
Chisolm has sued Wells, the Pour House, building owner BB&A Entertainment and mortgage holder Wells Fargo bank. The lawsuit and assault charge are pending in Richland County.
Ruonala said he knows Wells, the former owner, is no longer a part of the business. However, Bland is a former Pour House manager; but he wasn’t in that position when Chisolm was injured.
Harpootlian said it is unclear who actually owns the bar.
“There are a number of LLCs that are involved,” he said. “We want to find out who actually owns the bars and who keeps the profits.”