Only nine bars in Five Points are now allowed to continue serving beer and wine past 2 a.m. after several decided not to reapply for late-night alcohol permits.
Just more than half the Columbia bars that were allowed to stay open past 2 a.m. several months ago have reapplied for their late-night permits — a total of 13 both in and out of Five Points, compared to 23 previously, according to Columbia Police Chief Skip Holbrook.
The sharp decline in late-night bars comes after months of debate among local bar owners, City Council members, University of South Carolina officials and residents of neighborhoods surrounding the Five Points entertainment district.
Concerns about late-night neighborhood crimes and a proliferation of underage drinking in Five Points resulted in a number of changes to the city’s ordinance that allows some bars to serve beer and wine past 2 a.m. most nights of the week. All bars in South Carolina must stop selling alcohol by 2 a.m. on Sundays.
Late-night bars in Columbia now face a $2,500 permit fee and $1,000 annual renewal cost, increased from the previous $50 annual fee, along with a slew of new regulations, including passing a building inspection and providing menus of food served all night.
“What we intended to do is start weeding out the late-night bars, and the ordinance was a big step in that direction,” said City Councilman Howard Duvall, who first proposed earlier this year that the city shut down all bars at 2 a.m. “I think they are finding that the cost (of the permits) ... and the other costs of compliance with the ordinance makes it so it’s not as financially attractive” to stay open late.
The 13 bars with pending applications for late-night permits are: Night Caps, Canton Restaurant & Lounge, The Whig, Tin Roof/The Senate, Bar None, Group Therapy, Five Points Saloon, Cover 3, Jake’s, Pavlov’s, Cotton Gin, Bird Dog and Lucky’s. Night Caps, Canton, The Whig and Tin Roof/The Senate are not in Five Points and previously were the only non-Five Points bars in the city to stay open past 2 a.m.
These 13 bars have temporary late-night permits while Columbia police vet their applications and make sure they meet requirements to continue operating past 2 a.m., Holbrook said.
“It’s a privilege to have the permit, and with that privilege comes responsibility and expectations from us, and we’re going to be checking and holding folks accountable,” Holbrook said. “We’re not going to play around with people who are not holding up their end of the bargain when it comes to the late-night permits.”
This weekend will be the first real test of the stricter late-night ordinance, as tens of thousands of college students have returned to Columbia in the past week. Five Points, known as a college nightlife hotspot, is likely to experience crowds it hasn’t seen since May.
Police are treating “welcome back weekend” as a major event, Holbrook said. And USC police will be assisting Columbia police with Five Points patrols, he said.
A number of popular bars that used to be allowed to keep their doors open hours past 2 a.m., including Breaker’s, Latitude 22 and Moosehead Saloon, now must cut off their alcohol service promptly at 2 or risk criminal citations.
“I think this weekend will be a challenging weekend,” Duvall said. “The students are back, and the ones that are off from Mom and Dad for their first weekend are probably going to try to test the boundaries. And we will be there to make sure they understand where those boundaries are.
“I’m anxious to get into the season with football games and the students returning to see if we have improved the situation. I think a short time will tell.”
Some Five Points neighbors who wanted the city to close all bars at 2 a.m. aren’t satisfied with the recent steps to curb late-night bar activity.
“Our goal in the neighborhood all along has been to restore a balance to Five Points so that it is a place that everybody in the community is excited to visit,” Shandon resident Michael Drennan said. “We’re in wait-and-see mode to see how this works out.”
Depending on the outcome of the stricter late-night ordinance — whether nearby residents feel disturbances are abated — Drennan said he and others could return to City Council and ask for a reconsideration of a strict 2 a.m. closing time.
Duvall is in “wait-and-see mode,” too.
“I’m sure it will” cut down on late-night crime, Duvall said. “If you decrease the number of people, you decrease the incidents that have occurred in neighborhoods.”
Other new stipulations in the city’s late-night bar ordinance, passed in May, include:
▪ Requiring bars to be in operation for at least two years before they are eligible to apply for an after-hours permit
▪ 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