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5 bars in Columbia's Five Points keeping liquor licenses; Popular bar closes for good

Rooftop bar in Columbia (copy)

Numerous bars including Rooftop Bar and Lounge in Columbia's Five Points neighborhood are getting renewals on their liquor licenses from the S.C. Department of Revenue. Mike Fitts/The Post and Courier

COLUMBIA — Five bars in Columbia's Five Points neighborhood will receive their dispute liquor license renewals with state regulators requiring strict new rules.

The Cotton Gin, The Bird Dog, Taneyhill's Group Therapy, Five Points Saloon and Murphy's Law have reached agreements with Revenue, said attorney John Alphin, who has represented several bars during the disputes. The bars will remain open when University of South Carolina classes resume in mid-August.

Meanwhile, the owners of Pavlov's, a longtime popular spot for college students that has been in a relicensing fight, have agreed it should remain closed, according to Joe McCulloch, who has represented the bar. The owners will take some time to consider selling or reconfiguring the business, McCulloch said.

Pavlov's has been closed since April.

Another bar in the district facing a relicensing fight, Moosehead Saloon, has been closed and listed as for sale. 

Neighborhood objections were withdrawn months ago against another bar in the district, Pinch, after a new owner made clear to the neighborhood that the business was becoming a pizza place rather than just a bar, according to Chris Kenney, an attorney working with State Sen. Dick Harpootlian.

The agreement allowing five bars to keep their liquor licenses should help reduce drunken behavior in the historic district, said Harpootlian, who has pressed hard to stop underage drinking in the area.

"I hope that we will see a diminishment of crowds of 18-year-olds, thousands of them throwing up," he said.

Harpootlian said the stricter rules could be a model for other areas in the state, such as the King Street district in downtown Charleston.

Some of the restrictions under the new rules:

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  • 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 some bars, are touted by their makers to find fake IDs that can fool basic equipment.
  • The bars cannot offer specials on alcoholic drinks and must charge at least $3 per beer and $3.50 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.

Three Five Points bars, Rooftop and the side-by-side Breakers bars, had been relicensed after court hearings, also receiving similarly tight operating requirements.

Alphin said the rules agreements should allow the bars to operate safely while using the improved scanning technology to fight the flood of hard-to-detect fake IDs.

Residents of the nearby neighborhood had filed objections to the reissuing of 11 bars' liquor licenses, over frequent intrusion by drunk patrons, some of whom are underage.

USC had joined neighborhood objections against four of the bars, saying their activities such as drink specials were spurring abuse of alcohol.

If valid objections are raised, the state revenue agency cannot issue the licenses and the disputes head toward a court hearing, unless objections later are removed.

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