The University of South Carolina has a drinking problem, and closing the city’s bars at 2 a.m. won’t solve it, owners, employees and advocates of Columbia bars told a City Council committee Tuesday.
“USC has a drinking problem, and USC can solve that drinking problem,” said Will Green, co-owner of The Whig on Main Street, which is one of about two dozen Columbia bars that have permits to stay open past 2 a.m. “The children can go into timeout. They can leave. ... As for adults who are responsible drinkers and bars that are responsible businesses, I don’t see what this has to do with us.”
The original question of whether the city should force all bars to close each night at 2 a.m. gave way to an airing of concerns about a rapidly growing USC student body and a proliferation of what many say are irresponsible student drinkers.
Both those in favor of and those against setting an across-the-board 2 a.m. bar curfew seemed to agree that there is a problem centered around the Five Points entertainment district, which draws throngs of college-aged revelers each weekend.
The revelry frequently spills over into nearby neighborhoods, eroding residents’ quality of life, they say.
“Consider the quality of life for those of us who cannot move, who cannot afford to move,” said Femi Olylenn, who lives in the Martin Luther King neighborhood beside Five Points.
He spoke of people puking on his walkway, urinating in his flowerbed and an elderly neighbor calling him because people are at her door at 4:30 and 5 o’clock in the morning.
“If you drink until 2 a.m., it ought to be enough,” Olylenn said.
But a 2 a.m. bar curfew won’t solve those problems, many of Tuesday’s speakers said.
“It’s not just an all-night party like some people might think. ... It’s not just a bunch of college kids and monsters at these hours,” said David Harris, owner of Nightcaps on Devine Street. Of the bars in the city with extended-hours permits, Nightcaps is one of four bars not in Five Points to have the permit.
“This idea that there are university students staying at bars until 6 a.m., and they’re so drunk they don’t know where they are and wander off into neighborhoods, is false,” said Sean McManus.
McManus said he works in information technology and gets off around 2 a.m. on Thursday and Friday nights. He often goes to Bar None, a Five Points bar that caters to a more mature crowd and is particularly favored among service industry workers, many of whom do not get off work until after 2.
Of the 26 people who spoke to members of City Council’s public safety committee, more than half argued against a mandated closing time. And of the more than 50 people in attendance in City Council chambers, the majority indicated by a show of hands that they, too, support late-night hours for bars.
USC has said it supports efforts to close bars at 2 a.m.
Prior to 2011, all bars across the city were allowed to stay open at all hours (except on Sunday mornings, when state law requires all alcohol sales to stop at 2 a.m.). At that time, City Council passed a law requiring bars to stop selling alcohol at 2 a.m. unless they maintain a special permit.
Rather than repeal the extended-hours permits, several people said, the city should consider how to better enforce or strengthen the rules that are currently on the books.
Over two weekends in January, 11 Five Points bars with extended-hours permits were issued citations for violating their permits by selling liquor after 2 a.m., when only beer and wine sales are allowed.
The bar closing discussion is far from over.
The City Council public safety committee will meet again in the coming weeks to revisit the issue. At that time, the Coalition of Five Points Neighborhoods, led by activist Kit Smith, plans to make a presentation with data and analysis supporting an earlier bar closing time, Smith said.
By the following committee meeting, Councilman Daniel Rickenmann said, he hopes to have a recommendation ready to bring to the full council.
“There are things that need to change,” Rickenmann said. “How we approach that is going to depend on how we gather all the information.”
Reach Ellis at (803) 771-8307.