2 a.m. law: Now they mean it

Sitting at K.C. Mulligan's bar, tended by Tiffany Cox, early Wednesday evening, Gary McElveen (from lower left), David Bean, and Michael Ward gave 3 assessments of the 2 a.m. bar-closing ordinance. "I'm in bed by 2 so it really doesn't matter," said McEl

Starting Wednesday, North. Charleston police to begin enforcing new closing hours at bars

Bars in North Charleston can enjoy one final day of holiday revelry Monday night without being fined for being open past 2 a.m.

But 24 hours later the city's month-long grace period ends.

North Charleston's newly adopted 2 a.m. mandatory bar-closing ordinance takes effect at 2 a.m. Wednesday, Jan. 2, bringing the city in line with several other local municipalities in the Lowcountry.

The city passed the law Nov. 29 to crack down on after-hours crime. It took effect immediately, but Mayor Keith Summey allowed a grace period over the holidays to give drinking establishments and their customers time to grow accustomed to the new measure.

The mayor instructed police to hand out warnings to those bars still open after 2 a.m. between Nov. 29 and Jan. 2. After that, bars found to be open will face fines.

"If they continue to remain open, the city will revoke their business licenses," Summey said.

Before North Charleston passed its 2 a.m. bar-closing law last month, K.C. Mulligan's bar on upper Rivers Avenue would close at 3 a.m.

Since then the bar has closed promptly at 2 a.m., co-owner Phil Bethards said.

"I wasn't in favor of it," he said. "It's cost us money. Our customers aren't happy. They say it's not fair. Ultimately it was a policy decision that we didn't agree with."

A handful of bars have been issued warnings, but when the clock strikes 2 a.m. Wednesday, bars not complying with the law will face fines of $500, North Charleston Police Department Public Information Officer Spencer Pryor said.

The measure came as part of Police Chief Jon Zumalt's attempt to stop some of the crime occurring in a city of more than 87,000 people. One study recently dubbed North Charleston the seventh-most-dangerous city in the nation because of its level of violent crime in 2006, when there were 29 homicides, 544 robberies and 1,331 burglaries.

Two of those killings occurred at bars, which also were the scene of one rape, 40 aggravated assaults, nine robberies, eight burglaries, 17 stolen vehicles and 22 drug arrests, among other crimes, in 2006, police records show. Police fielded 433 calls related to drinking establishments in 2006.

Police statistics show that 45 percent of violent crimes in the city occurred at bars after 2 a.m. in 2006. Through September of 2007, the rate was 55 percent.

Before the Thanksgiving killing at Club 843 near Dorchester and Cross County roads at 3:30 a.m., there had been two rapes, 29 aggravated assaults, 11 robberies, five burglaries, 15 stolen vehicles and nine drug arrests among 343 calls to bars through September, according to police records.

Many local governments in the Lowcountry, including Charleston, require bars to close at 2 a.m., but North Charleston allowed them to stay open later. The city had a law that required bars to stop serving alcohol at 2 a.m. but allowed them to remain open longer for people to dance and socialize.

Zumalt maintained that he didn't have the manpower or resources to make sure bars were not still serving alcohol after 2 a.m., and he asked the mayor and City Council in February to consider the mandatory closing law.

The mayor resisted attempts to regulate the hours of business because he generally does not believe in infringing on decisions that businesses should make for themselves, such as smoking in bars.

"It's become a safety issue," Summey said. "It's the law now, and we have to enforce it."