Third Five Points bar to close after liquor license challenge based on food sales

Take a look at Five Points transformation from day to night

During a Saturday night, a GoPro captured the change from day to night in Columbia's Five Points.
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During a Saturday night, a GoPro captured the change from day to night in Columbia's Five Points.

Cover 3, a late-opening Five Points bar that catered mostly to University of South Carolina students, has withdrawn its request for a liquor license renewal and will close at midnight Aug. 31 when its current license expires.

The license renewal was opposed by residents of neighborhoods near the entertainment and shopping district near USC. The withdrawal came during an S.C. Administrative Law Court hearing on the residents’ challenge.

It will be the third bar to close since the residents, represented by attorney and state Sen. Dick Harpootlian’s law firm, began protesting all license renewals for bars that cater mostly to college crowds. A license for Harden Street bar The Roost has already been denied and one for Rooftop Bar was granted with heavy requirements for food service and hours of operation.

The Horseshoe also closed as a result of a challenge to their license renewal by residents. However, they pulled their request before a hearing.

“This shows that the residents mean business,” said Tom Gottshall, president of the University Hill Neighborhood Association. “We mean to lower the density of these bars and bring Five Points back.”

The residents claim the bars cause a nuisance in nearby neighborhoods when thousands of drunken USC students and others disgorge from them after late night binge drinking. They are challenging the licenses based on a provision in the state liquor laws that requires establishments selling liquor by the drink to serve a “substantial” amount of food.

In testimony Thursday, Cover 3 manager Connor Hobbs said that the bar, which doesn’t open until 8 p.m. and usually stays open until 2 a.m., took in $1.4 million in gross sales in 34 months and had only $8,500 in food sales, mostly Chick-fil-A sandwiches purchased from a nearby Five Points store and resold for $5. That’s a percent of 0.07 in food to alcohol sales.

At the hearing on Thursday, an attorney for the S.C. Department of Revenue said it would begin using food sales as a basis for granting a liquor license. It is a change that could affect thousands of bars across the state. The department and SLED, which enforces license provisions, had in the past generally ignored the food provision.

“I believe DOR is getting the message . . . that things are out of kilter,” Gottshall said.

Cover 3 attorney Ken Allen, a former chief of the now-defunct Alcohol Beverage Commission, could not be reached for comment.

The neighbors are also protesting the liquor license renewal of landmark Five Points watering hole Group Therapy, owned by former University of South Carolina football great Steve Tanneyhill. That hearing was scheduled for next week, but was postponed Friday due to a personal matter with one of the attorneys.

Jeff Wilkinson has worked for The State for both too long and not long enough. He’s covered politics, city government, history, business, the military, marijuana and the Iraq War. Jeff knows the weird, wonderful and untold secrets of South Carolina. Buy him a shot and he’ll tell you all about them.