Eat, drink and be well-mannered

People walk down King Street on a Thursday night last spring. (Wade Spees/File)

Charleston’s vibrant nightlife is appealing to residents and visitors alike. Until it gets out of hand.

When that happens, it is often people who live near the popular restaurants and bars on upper King Street who bear the brunt. They are awakened by rowdies after the 2 a.m. closing and find vomit on the sidewalks in front of their houses.

So clearly the answer is to promote the hospitality industry as the city’s primary economic engine while, at the same time, keeping neighborhoods livable.

What isn’t clear is how to accomplish that. And while there is not one tidy cure-all, it is an important issue to tackle.

A 21-member committee will present some ideas to Charleston City Council in July. But before that, it will hear what the public thinks. People will be invited to speak at the Charleston Maritime Center Tuesday, where Jim Peters, president of the Responsible Hospitality Institute who advises cities on managing their nighttime economy, will present his thoughts.

Frank McCann, who co-chaired the committee, said one idea that will not be recommended is another moratorium. In September, the city imposed a one-year moratorium on new establishments that serve alcohol past midnight on King Street, parts of Meeting and East Bay streets and the City Market area.

While the moratorium has served a good purpose — giving McCann’s committee time to consider options — he says it is a negative. “We want ... a strong, healthy and prosperous entertainment industry in Charleston.”

The main recommendation his committee is likely to present to council is for a commission to monitor the entertainment industry citywide.

Certainly the city needs to monitor its nightlife, just as it does traffic and the well-being of horses that pull tour carriages. The challenge will be finding ways to ensure the city is safe and civil without heavy-handed tactics that discourage a vibrant hospitality industry.

Those in hospitality-related jobs want to see the industry thrive, and have voiced their concerns.

But they don’t have to wait for City Council to take action to begin resolving the situation. They can make sure their bars or restaurants demonstrate responsibility about whom and how much they serve, and how customers will be traveling when they leave. Perhaps they need a cab or at least a reminder about driving after drinking. Better to come from them than from a police officer.

Police could also keep an eye out on known trouble spots. It’s an open secret which bars serve — and overserve — underage customers.

Accommodating the nighttime hospitality industry does not need to be an all-or-nothing thing. City Council should look for ways to foster nightlife without compromising residents’ quality of life.