State Law Enforcement Division undercover agents have cited 11 popular Five Points bars in recent weeks for serving liquor after 2 a.m.
It is against state law for the businesses to serve liquor from 2 a.m. to 10 a.m. However, with a special city permit, they are allowed to serve beer and wine – which don’t have as much intoxicating alcohol – after 2 a.m.
Drunken, unruly behavior is a concern of many residents who live near Five Points, some of whom are pressing to close all bars in the city at 2 a.m.
SLED’s citations – which point to an apparently widespread practice of illegal after-hour liquor sales – are likely to ratchet up a debate about whether any of the 30-odd bars in central Five Points ought to be open after 2 a.m.
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Columbia City Councilman Howard Duvall has proposed that all city bars stop serving alcohol at 2 a.m.
Duvall’s concerns were sparked by people like Tom Gottshall, president of the University Hill Neighborhood Council. That neighborhood is between Five Points and the nearby University of South Carolina campus.
“The bars have overwhelmed Five Points,” Gottshall told City Council last month. “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.”
On Friday, after The State newspaper informed Duvall of SLED’s actions, the councilman said he was even more in favor of closing bars at 2 a.m. – or earlier. “These violations strengthen the argument for closing all bars at an earlier hour.”
Nearly two dozen bars in the city have special permits that allow them to sell beer and wine, but not liquor, past 2 a.m. The majority are concentrated in Five Points, within easy walking distance for thousands of USC students.
“When you have 11 bars that are violating the South Carolina alcohol laws, I think that shows a pattern,” Duvall said. “One of the ways we can deal with that is shortening the hours they can operate.”
‘A complicated situation’
According to SLED records, the bars cited were: Five Points Saloon, Jake’s, Horseshoe, Latitude, Lucky’s, Cotton Gin, Moosehead Saloon, Pavlov’s, Group Therapy, Bar None and Bird Dog.
Some were cited twice, for a total of 16 violations in all.
Joe McCulloch, a Columbia attorney who represents some of the bars cited by SLED, told The State that his clients will do better.
“My clients will fully comply with the law, as we assume will all businesses within and outside of Five Points, and we will continue to work with City Council and the neighborhood representatives about these issues,” McCulloch said. He did not identify his clients.
State alcohol laws are difficult to enforce as it is, Duvall said.
Requiring bars to close earlier could “decrease the amount of time (police) have to devote resources in these areas to enforce laws,” he said.
However, some critics have argued that forcing bars to close at 2 a.m. could disperse the drinking population to broader areas of the city, making policing more difficult.
“It’s a complicated situation,” Duvall said. “Anything we can do to simplify the law enforcement procedures would be good.”
City Council’s public safety committee will hold a public meeting at 10 a.m. Tuesday at City Hall to discuss bar closing times. However, no decision will be made by council members at that time.
‘Baby-sitting Animal House’
Kit Smith, president of the Coalition of Five Points Neighborhoods, said three or four neighborhoods already are on record favoring an end to the special city permits that allow bars to stay open past 2 a.m.
“We have over 70 people who want to speak to council on Tuesday morning,” Smith said.
“We believe that repealing the law that allows all-night bars would go a long way toward solving the behavior problems of the students, and it would help the health and reputation of Five Points,” Smith said.
“We don’t want our police baby-sitting Animal House,” Smith said, referring to the movie about drunken college students. “Police ought to be out chasing criminals.”
Several months ago, Columbia Police Chief Skip Holbrook asked SLED for its help in citing Five Points bars that were serving underage drinkers and students using phony IDs, SLED officials said.
In recent weeks, a member of Smith’s neighborhood coalition had young people go into Five Points and shoot video of bars serving liquor after 2 a.m. That information was given to SLED, which sent its own agents into bars.
The citations SLED gave out are for civil violations. If a bar gets enough citations, it can have its alcohol license revoked.
The SLED agents ordered all kinds of popular liquor after hours – rum and Sprite, vodka and Red Bull, bourbon and Coke, and ginger ale and bourbon. The agents documented their purchases. They also took a small taste of the drinks to make sure they did, in fact, have liquor in them.