Like all ecosystems, Columbia’s Five Points shopping and entertainment district is complex.
During the day, it functions as a family-friendly neighborhood village. At night, it turns into a place where many college students and Columbia residents can be found dancing on each other in bars or dropping $100 on calzones. Sometimes both.
Though some cast this as typical college nightlife behavior, members of the surrounding neighborhood have voiced concerns in recent years.
The Daily Gamecock and SGTV collectively sent 31 reporters and photographers into Five Points to see exactly what a typical night was like from a variety of perspectives. Here’s a snapshot of what we saw.
A freshman's worst nightmare
While some stay out through all hours of the night in Five Points to eat, drink and dance, other students and Columbia residents are there, by their sides, for work instead of play. The bouncers of Five Points are the gatekeepers who allow those 21 and over into bars — or those under 21 with good enough IDs to sneak their way in for a night of fun.
“There are some times where I see people’s IDs, and they’re real IDs, and they just look f—d up. It’s a judgement call, but at a certain point, if it’s obviously — I mean, no,” Lucky’s bouncer Isaiah Harris said.
Moosehead floor manager Jay Jones said the bar has a card reader that determines if an ID is fake or not.
“We do our best. I’m always Googling, just about every week, different ways to spot a fake," Jones said. "We like to see what cards are getting rejected [from the card reader]; if they’re coming from the same state or something like that. So, then, we’ll just be on the lookout for that state if the card reader dies or something like that and we’re just left to our own devices.”
A convincing fake ID isn’t the only thing that can get someone into a Five Points bar. Sometimes it’s cash bribes. One bouncer, who requested to remain anonymous, said some people will give him $10 to $50 on a typical night to get into the bar. He also said made "roughly $3,000" the weekend of the South Carolina versus Alabama football game.
Jones said during Family Weekend, someone gave him $100 to skip the line.
“That’s something to split with my guys. We’re out here working hard," Jones said. "I’m not going to decline ... That’s like a tip."
Dontee Patterson has been working at Breakers Bar & Grill for five years and said there’s two things he’s certain he’ll see every night: a fake ID and a girl crying.
"[Bargoers] have to feel protected, but they have to feel afraid at the same time," Patterson said.
Patterson said the job can often get physical, and he’s grown accustomed to violent, drunken antics.
“[A Breakers patron] didn’t want to leave, so I picked him up — I got behind him and I picked him up — and I walked him out of there. ... When I let him go … he actually reached in and grabbed my hair and pulled a few strands out,” Patterson said. “I had to really get physical … I think I broke a couple of his ribs … I dropped my full body weight on him.”
Community calls for increased police presence
The drunken antics and underage drinking are what some bouncers think is the reason for increased police presence.
“When I first started here, it was more of a younger crowd, but now, it’s like the crowd has gotten even younger,” Patterson said. “I’ve seen high school kids out here. That’s why the cops be out here the way they do.”
In addition to the emergence of a less than ideal younger crowd, rising crime in the area has become another concern for the community.
The community was shaken in 2013 when then-first-year student Martha Childress was paralyzed from the waist down after she was hit by a stray bullet on a crowded sidewalk in Five Points.
The shooting marked a turning point, and the lack of safety measures in Five Points was scrutinized by Columbia residents. As a result, Five Points experienced an increase in police presence and the university worked with the city to upgrade its Five Points shuttle system.
Still, Five Points has remained a hub for criminal activity through the years.
Most recently, Five Points experienced yet another tragedy when fourth-year political science student Samantha Josephson was murdered after mistakenly getting into a vehicle she believed was her Uber in March.
Josephson’s murder marked yet another turning point for both USC and Five Points, and it prompted further safety measures.
Uber and former USC president Harris Pastides launched the “What’s my name?” campaign, which encouraged students to request their name from their Uber driver and to check their license plate before getting into the vehicle.
In an interview with SGTV, USCPD Capt. Eric Grabski said it was important for the community to embrace the new safety measures.
"Samantha's family has said this: They want something good to happen out of this unspeakable tragedy, and what they is want is, they want us to come together to form some habits to be safe in the future," Grabski said.
They also urged students to use a Five Points pickup spot, so everyone had to go to the same area to be picked up by Uber or Lyft. However, reporters noticed several students not using the designated Uber pickup spot and were instead picked up or dropped off at the doors of various bars and restaurants.
Some students feel the Uber campaign was not enough.
“Like, a heavier police presence downtown would help the general consensus of safety because, I mean, I’ve seen fights break out on the street and stuff, and there's not a cop in sight,” fourth-year retail management student Taylor Faile said.
USCPD Sgt. Nick Peters said one of the police force's biggest priorities is looking for individuals who could cause trouble.
“I know college kids are going to drink. We all know that. I’m trying to look for people that are causing fights,” Peters said. “I normally try to look for the ones that are possibly harming themselves or others.”
The late night menu
When a long night of drinking and dancing comes to an end, most students find themselves migrating to the few restaurants open after hours.
For many students, the go-to spot is Cook Out. The fast food chain holds a special place in the hearts of college students across the Southeast due to its inexpensive food and late hours.
Khari Haynes, a Benedict College student who does JROTC at USC, has been working at Cook Out for four months. During his short tenure, he said he’s discovered the typical Cook Out crowd is composed of three important elements.
“The crowd is literally split up into sections, so there’s always a drunk part — a really, really drunk, drunk part — and there's like a mellow part … and there’s one sober friend that has no control of the crowd,” Haynes said.
On busy nights, Haynes said there will usually be 13 people on staff, and the restaurant gets so busy that he and his co-workers are trained to do multiple jobs. Even stationed police officers lend a helping hand behind the counters to help with crowd control on the weekends.
Still, Haynes and fourth-year political science student Kathleen Sowder said Cook Out has its fair share of fun.
“We had one time, we were sitting outside, and there was like a group of us after RUF that were just sitting out there, and two guys came up that wanted to audition their new rap album, and they played it for us and asked us to vote on it and follow their Instagram page," Sowder said. "That was pretty cool."
Another popular late food spot is Eddie’s Calzones, a restaurant that offers fresh food.
Travis Cleveland has been the general manager at Eddie’s Calzones since it first opened in 2014. He said he enjoys the energy students bring to the restaurant.
“It's very, very live in here. It's a lot of energy going around, and you have a lot of people cracking jokes and just a lot of positive energy coming around,” Cleveland said.
Still, Cleveland has his share of crazy stories about student customers.
“I've seen a dude fall asleep standing up, honestly," Cleveland said. "I've seen a girl come out of the bathroom with her shorts up, but her underwear around her ankles. I'm still trying to figure that out, and I can't.”
Students always return for experience
Though many late-night restaurant employees say they see crazy things each night, Chicken on a Stick employee Sing Tam says it’s all pretty normal. He’s been selling the renowned chicken on weekends outside of what used to be The Horseshoe Bar for eight years and said he keeps coming back for his customers.
Even with the drunkenness, tears and fights, to some, nights in Five Points are just a normal part of college drinking culture.
“You can get, like, a million vibes here,” Jones said. “That’s one of the good things about Five Points that I’ve always liked.”
However, Five Points' future might be in jeopardy and could face bar closures in the future. South Carolina Sen. Dick Harpootlian represents a group of Five Points residents who believe certain bars facilitate underage drinking and overconsumption, which results in property damage.
Despite the pushback, Five Points continues to offer a unique experience that keeps college-aged students coming back for vodka sodas and Cook Out trays.
“No other place like Five Points,” fourth-year biology student Zach Smith said.
Editor's note: We chose to highlight quotes overheard by our reporters in Five Points. All pull quotes are anonymous.
Reporting: Sekani Adebimpe, Christine Bartruff, Genna Contino, Kailey Cota, Sarah Cronin, Sarah Eissmann, Hannah Harper, Rita Naidu, Lily Shahida, Erin Slowey, Nick Sullivan, Taylor Washington
Photo: Robbie Greenwald, Kailee Kokes, Ethan Lam, Olivia McLucas, James Motter, Vanessa Purpura, Alyssa Rasp, Shreyas Saboo, Haley Salvador
Video: Amy Grace Aarturn, Marsharia Adams, Connor Bettge, Spencer Buckler, Finn Carlin, Jack Heeke, Ward Jolles, Nathanael Lemmens, Kaylee Olivas, Rachel Smith
Video editing: Spencer Buckler
Story: Genna Contino and Taylor Washington