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2 Five Points bars win liquor licenses, but must follow tight rules on IDs, booze prices

Breakers

The entrance to Breakers Live, one of two side-by-side bars in Columbia's Five Points district that had their liquor licenses pulled in April. Mike Fitts/Staff

COLUMBIA — Two side-by-side bars in the heart of Columbia's Five Points district will get their liquor licenses after a state judge ruled in their favor July 20.

The two bars, Breakers Live and Breakers Bar and Grill in the 800 block of Harden Street, faced community opposition to the renewals, but a new owner asserted in court that they will crack down on underage drinking and move to a restaurant-centric business model.

The court case over the licenses is the latest battle in the current struggle over the future of the neighborhood, as 11 bars faced license challenges.

Four bars have been closed with suspended licenses, including the two Breakers locations.

One bar, Rooftop, has won a new license with restrictions after reaching an agreement with the S.C. Department of Revenue. That deal included similar restrictions as the new order for the two Breakers locations.

Moosehead Saloon is closed and for sale.

The other seven Five Points license renewals fights remain in the courts.

The restrictions on the Breaker bars, approved by Judge H.W. Funderburk in the state's Administrative Law Court, included: 

  • The bars are required to check all identifications with new high-tech scanners to foil the frequent use of fakes. The newer scanners, already in place at the bars, find fake IDs that can fool basic equipment, owner Tony Pennington told the court during a June hearing.
  • The bars are required to check about 10 percent of IDs during bar purchases in addition to ID scans of all patrons entering. 
  • The bars cannot offer specials on alcoholic drinks and must charge at least $3 per beer and $4 per liquor drink.
  • The bars must keep records of all ID scans and be ready to provide those and security camera footage of bar areas to law enforcement upon request.

Penalties for further violations by underage drinkers in the bars are strict. If the bar is found to have knowingly served underaged consumers, it will get a 45-day suspension of its license for the first office. A second offense will get its liquor license revoked.

Pennington and his wife, Kim, bought the bars, Breakers Live and Breakers Bar and Grill, last December and were operating them under a temporary license until that was pulled in April.

John Alphin, one of the attorneys representing the Penningtons, said that his side was pleased with the result. 

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The testimony of a SLED agent, Kirkland Jordan, that the bars were generally peaceable and not a source of trouble, was important to the case, as was the fact that high-quality ID scanners already had been acquired for the bars, Alphin said.

The bars should be able to comply with the order and reopen within a few weeks, he said.

During the hearing, Tony Pennington said that the couple intended to shift both places toward a family restaurant, including serving food at lunchtime, but closed up after the licenses was pulled in April.

Breakers’ owners planned to serve food for lunch and dinner, then post doormen and scan IDs upon entry like a bar after 8 p.m., he said. 

“We’re going to be the bar and grill that you go to in Five Points,” Pennington said.

That plan required a near-total rebuild of the kitchens in both businesses, which the couple has provided $225,000 in part to cover, he said.

Almost none of the kitchen equipment that they inherited had been used for some time, Pennington said. That’s a problem under S.C. law because establishments with liquor licenses are required to have substantial food options for customers.

In its case opposing the relicensing, the state Department of Revenue argued that the businesses were a public safety risk, even under the new owners.

The agency's case highlighted how two young men who entered the bar despite being underage were later struck by cars and injured.

On Feb. 12, Sean Brooks drank at Breakers despite being underage and later that night was struck and seriously injured by a vehicle, according to police. On March 20, Lear Hohmann, 19, visited Breakers with his brother Kurdt and two friends and later was struck by a vehicle while crossing the street, an accident that was captured on city surveillance cameras and shown in court.

The Hohmann brothers testified in court that they never were asked for their IDs before entering, receiving help from someone who seemed to be an employee to enter through a side gate.

Laer Hohmann testified from a wheelchair that he bought several liquor drinks at Breakers and remembers little of the rest of the evening or the accident.

Pennington, the bar owner, asserted that the Hohmanns’ group entered the bar through the door that is used to take out garbage, a security flaw that has been fixed.

Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/mikefittsat140

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