Drinking in Columbia bars could end a lot earlier if city officials do away with a special permit that allows some bars to serve alcohol all hours of the day and night.
City Councilman Howard Duvall plans to introduce a proposal at next Tuesday’s council meeting to eliminate the city’s extended hours permit that allows some bars to serve alcohol past 2 a.m. “until sunrise” if they meet certain conditions.
The proposal is mainly prompted by concerns surrounding the Five Points entertainment district, Duvall said. The district is well-known as a popular destination for late-night, college-aged drinkers.
Of the nearly two dozen bars in the city allowed to serve alcohol past 2 a.m., the vast majority – at least 16 – are concentrated in Five Points. Only four other bars in other parts of the city have extended-hours permits, according to a list provided by the city that was current as of November.
An across-the-board 2 a.m. alcohol cutoff could be a “step in the right direction” to improving Five Points’ image and reputation, Duvall said.
“The people in Five Points want to enhance the character of the Five Points brand, and I think the way that can be done is by cleaning up the alcohol-related incidents that we have in Five Points caused by these extended hours,” Duvall said.
It’s an issue of safety for college students who visit Five Points and a quality of life issue for residents of neighborhoods surrounding Five Points, Duvall said.
‘Just asinine’ to restrict all bars?
But repealing the extended-hours permits wouldn’t just affect Five Points bars.
“We’ve had zero violations in almost 13 years of business. To penalize us because you can’t control other businesses is just asinine,” said Phill Blair, co-owner of The Whig on Main Street. The Whig is one of the few bars outside of Five Points authorized to sell alcohol past 2 a.m.
It’s “not a secret,” Blair said, which bars are problem businesses. Those are where the city should focus its attention, he said.
“It just seems like this is a blanket fix for a problem that is specific to a certain area and certain bars,” Blair said. “That’s what they need to fix, not penalize everybody.”
Without an extended-hours permit, bars must stop serving alcohol at 2 a.m. The city established the 2 a.m. cutoff time and the extended-hours permit at the same time in 2011. Before then, there was no cut-off time.
In order to maintain their extended-hours permits, bars must meet certain conditions, including not allowing drinking contests or wet T-shirt contests. Repeated violations for serving alcohol to underage drinkers can also result in an extended-hours permit being revoked.
Other South Carolina cities, including Charleston, Greenville and Myrtle Beach, require bars to stop serving alcohol and, in some cities, to close their doors by 2 a.m.
State law bans the sale of liquor drinks (not beer or wine) after 2 a.m. and before 10 a.m. at any business. And all bars across the state must stop selling alcohol by 2 a.m. on Sundays.
Young drinkers in Five Points
University of South Carolina officials agree with the proposal to cut off alcohol sales at 2 a.m. in Columbia, specifically referencing the issue of student drinking in Five Points.
Last year, 260 students were taken to a hospital after over-consuming alcohol, the university said in a statement Friday, and “many” of them “were over-served in Five Points establishments.”
“Of those who were, all reported that they had been drinking in one of the bars granted an exemption to stay open past 2 a.m.,” the university said. “Allowing the district to become one that promotes late-night and early-morning drinking as a primary activity endangers our students, places undue burdens on law enforcement and diminishes the quality of life for nearby residents.”
A recent example that highlighted concerns about light-night drinking in Five Points was a violent incident at the now-closed Pour House bar, where the former owner was accused of putting a chokehold on a USC student and throwing him to the ground. The bar owner, Daniel Wells, was charged with assault and battery.
The bar, which had been allowed to serve alcohol past 2 a.m., was deemed a public nuisance and shut down after police were called more than 20 times in less than a year.
A new bar, the Five Points Roost, with a new owner has since opened in the space and closes nightly at 2 a.m.
Adam Ruonala, who owns the Roost and the Rooftop bar in Five Points, said his main concern with the proposal is that the rules be equally applied among all businesses.
He recognizes the “increased animation that goes on” as the hours get later and safety concerns arise. He also recognizes the financial benefits of businesses being able to stay open longer hours.
“Anytime somebody starts talking about restricting hours, that does provoke a sense of nervousness” among bar owners, Ruonala said.
But, he said, “you want to weigh that against what’s best for the consumer.”
Duvall’s bar proposal will be introduced at Tuesday’s 6 p.m. City Council meeting. Council is not expected to vote on the proposal at that time, but likely will refer it to a committee for further discussion.
Once the proposal is introduced, Duvall said he also hopes to have a temporary block on any new extended-hours permits being issued until the proposal is voted on by council.
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