A $2,500 permit and slate of stricter rules officially will allow Columbia bars to continue to stay open all hours of the night, despite emotional efforts led by some neighbors of the city’s Five Points entertainment district to close bars at 2 a.m.
The closing-time element of Columbia’s reckoning with late-night bars ended Tuesday night with City Council’s final blessing of several changes to the existing law that allows bars to stay open past 2 a.m. with special permits.
The new conditions for bars to continue serving beer and wine past 2 a.m. include:
▪ Raising the initial fee for an after-hours permit to $2,500, plus a $100 application fee. The current permit fee is $50. The annual renewal cost would be $1,000 for a bar that has had no legal citations the previous year. For bars that have received citations, renewal fees could rise as high as $10,000.
▪ Requiring bars to be in operation for at least two years before they are eligible to apply for an after-hours permit
▪ Requiring bars to provide a copy of their food menus with their applications for after-hours permits
▪ Requiring bars to serve food for all hours they're open past 2 a.m.
▪ Prohibiting bars from offering drink discounts after 2 a.m. Already, bars are allowed to serve only beer and wine, not liquor, past 2 a.m., per state law.
▪ Prohibiting bar owners from transferring their after-hours permits to new bar owners
About two dozen bars in Columbia currently have permits to stay open past 2 a.m. The vast majority of them are in Five Points, which has borne the brunt of criticism from residents in adjoining neighborhoods such as University Hill, Wales Garden and Martin Luther King. Many residents have complained of drunken bar-goers stumbling through their neighborhoods late at night causing noise, vandalism and other problems.
A proposal originally brought by City Councilman Howard Duvall and backed by the Coalition of Five Points Neighborhoods and the University of South Carolina would have closed all bars across the city at 2 a.m.
But the 2 a.m. closing time was quickly taken off the table, and some neighborhood-backed suggestions including only allowing bars that currently have late-night permits to obtain them in the future also were shot down.
Some neighborhood critics have said the beefed-up ordinance is not strong enough to satisfy their concerns about late-night drinking and crime.
Some late-night bar advocates have taken issue with some of the new elements of the ordinance, such as the requirement to keep their kitchens running all night.
While Duvall expressed disappointment that the neighborhoods’ concerns were not fully addressed, he joined the full council in unanimously approving the revised ordinance.