Late-night permit bans drinking games, wet T-shirt contests, ‘disrobing’ events
If Columbia bars want to keep the party going past 2 a.m., they will now have to throw out their Solo cups, toss their wet T-shirts in the dryer and keep their girls from going wild.
City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to force bars to close at 2 a.m. unless they apply for a special permit. The permit bans bars from hosting drinking games, wet T-shirt contests and, quoted from the ordinance, “Girls Gone Wild” or similar contests. It also requires bars to abide by existing state laws, which require them to put their staff through responsible alcohol training, employ one security guard per 100 occupants and maintain liquor liability insurance.
The ordinance is a compromise among several different proposals, one a unilateral 4 a.m. bar closing, seeking to address the rising violence and vandalism in Five Points and its surrounding neighborhoods. The compromise was proposed by Kathryn Fenner, the vice president of the University Hill Neighborhood Association.
“I think it’s a great step forward in dealing with a lot of the problems we’ve got going on in the neighborhood, in terms of the safety of the students and in terms of, frankly, the health of the Five Points district,” Fenner said.
Councilman Daniel J. Rickenmann said the compromise favored all parties.
“It allows people to stay open, it doesn’t affect business and it does make Columbia unique,” Rickenmann said. “It allows us to have a greater ability to get control of troubled spots.”
Rickenmann said Myrtle Beach experienced success with a similar permit system.
But not all bars are happy with the compromise. Fenner said one of the pros of the ordinance was that it may force bars to raise their prices to meet the permit’s requirements. This would combat excessive intoxication, Fenner said.
Scott Linaberry, president of the Five Points Association and owner of the bars Red Hot Tomatoes and Sharky’s, said he favored the bill. He said that the prevalence of “dollar drink nights” in Five Points was evidence that certain bars weren’t following the rules.
“I believe that a lot of the lower prices are due to bars that may not have a full payroll, which is required by law,” Linaberry said. “These are state laws; you can’t really pay your whole staff under the table. They have to be protected with workmen’s compensation insurance, and they should be paying taxes on what they’re making.”
When asked which specific bars were cutting corners, Linaberry replied that “every single bar that you see having a special on one night a week is breaking the law. If they are doing a drink special, they are required by law to run that special for 30 days consecutively.”
Linaberry said that a patron could demand a drink at the special weekly price any night of the week, and the bar would be legally required to comply. Linaberry’s Red Hot Tomatoes also does nightly specials.
According to Linaberry, the city received an e-mail accusing certain “megabars” of backing the compromise in order to stifle competition. Linaberry’s bars are the two largest in Five Points.
“I can understand where they may think that gives me some sort of advantage, but at the same time when you’re talking about hospitality tax, workmen’s compensation, liquor liability and payroll, I assure you that it is all proportionate to the size of the bar,” Linaberry said. “I couldn’t sell stuff for a dollar and afford to pay all those things.”
Brian Alberts, a fourth-year political science student who lives near Five Points, said he was in support of the initial proposal of bars having to close at 2 a.m..
“More time at bars means drunker people,” Alberts said, adding that he has to worry about drunk people when he drives home.
Alberts hopes that the new rules will make the city safer.
Anna Claire Breland, a first-year biology student, said she didn’t like the additional security and that she rarely meets people in Five Points who are over 21.
“I don’t know how I feel about the extra security, clearly everyone there is underage,” Breland said. “The ratio of underage to overage is about three to one. Obviously I’m not happy about security”