About bars closing at 2 a.m. in Columbia

For my second post of the day based on Twitter, I’ll give you something I retweeted this morning:

Kevin Fisher

Kevin Fisher

First, let me tell you of a sorta kinda indirect conflict I have. Or at least, apparent conflict: Phill Blair, co-owner of The Whig, is one of my elder son’s oldest friends, and one of the leading opponents of an earlier closing time for bars in the city. (For that matter, Free Times has a much closer connection than that his partner Will Green, but no one makes a secret of that or anything.)

And their argument is this: Their bar, which benefits from staying open later, would be penalized when it isn’t one of the bars causing the problems the policy is designed to address — which is more of a Five Points thing. (Phill and Will, let me know if I didn’t state that clearly.)

Of course, that flies in the face of my Grownup Party instincts, which embraces such concepts as “Nothing good happens after 2 a.m.” So I tend to lean toward what Kevin is saying:

In case you didn’t know it, we are very much the outlier on this issue, with Charleston and Greenville both requiring bars to close at 2 a.m.

Yet somehow the hospitality industry in those cities has survived and thrived without serving alcohol past 2 a.m. That’s right, all the bar activity on the peninsula in Charleston and all the bar activity on Main Street in Greenville comes to an end at 2 a.m.

What do their City Councils know that ours doesn’t? Maybe how to run a city, for starters.

Kevin was as wrong as wrong can be in the column before this one. If there was a perfect example of an issue that should NOT be decided by referendum, it’s the Dominion-SCANA deal. But he’s on more solid ground this week.

17 thoughts on “About bars closing at 2 a.m. in Columbia

  1. JesseS

    Fisher’s seems like the mindset of someone who has never worked 2nd shift or in the service industry. I don’t really drink much these days, but I pop into a bar almost every night for a high dollar coke before hitting the gym to socialize a bit before sweating. It’s mostly with people who, you guessed it, work 2nd shift or people in the service industry who want their shift drink a few blocks away from their boss.

    Of course those people aren’t real adults and by that I mean white collar.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      So you’re accusing me of doing what Claus does — judging people by whether they keep the “right” work hours?

      Well, I certainly don’t think I am. But I’d be interested to see how many of those folks in bars after 2 are really hard-working blue-collar folks who get off work then — as opposed to students who don’t work, and aren’t as concerned as they should be about being alert for class the next morning, because white-collar mom and dad are paying for it.

      It could be that they are all solid members of the honest proletariat. Next time I see Phill, I’ll ask him about that…

      1. Claus2

        I’ve never judged people who worked swing shift or graveyard shift. I’ve judged people who are too lazy to get up in the morning and get to work on time. Does anyone else where you work stroll in at the break of mid-day? What time do you leave? Most full-time jobs are 40 hours per week, 8 hours a day. If you come in at 10:00, do you leave at 7:00 or head out the door at 5:00 along with everyone else?

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          No, I’m generally here a couple of hours after other people. Yeah, 7 is a fairly common time for me to leave. But it doesn’t matter. I have things to do, and I do them when I do them. And yeah, it’s way lower intensity than the decades I spent working 10, 12, 14 hours, and sometimes through the night, to 30 and 36 hours, at newspapers. Too bad I didn’t have you to tell me I was supposed to go home after 8 hours; maybe I could have seen my kids more when they were growing up.

          But you know what? It’s none of your business.

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            Another way to put it — I haven’t done shift work, hourly work, since 1978. That’s when I went on salary, for the lordly sum of $250 a week, often working around the clock covering everything that happened in five counties in rural West Tennessee.

            Here at ADCO, we sometimes keep track of the number of hours spent on a particularly job, because that’s how we’re getting paid. But usually not…

          2. Claus2

            I picture you more as the guy who strolls in a 10:00, goes to lunch at 11:30, returns around 2:00 and then leave at 3:00.

            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              Then you don’t know me.

              That DOES sort of describe some journalists who worked at The State when I first got here in the ’80s. But you’re leaving out some details. You left out the three-scotch lunch, and the return to the bar to resume drinking when you leave at 3 or 4.

              I was sort of in the vanguard of a VERY different work ethic when I arrived.

              One of the old guard came up with a private nickname for me when I joined the editorial board (as I learned from a third party). He called me “the Energizer Bunny.” Yeah, I might have been somewhat more energetic and harder-driving than average, but not THAT much. But that sort of gives you an idea of the culture change that I helped usher in.

              Don’t ever try to one-up me on working hard, and for long hours. You’re taking on the wrong guy for that…

    2. Brad Warthen Post author

      By the way, I was in the past one of those shift workers — although a white-collar one — who got off at 1 or 2 and sometimes went to bars after. My first newspaper job, as copy boy at The Commercial Appeal, was that sort of shift.

      Later, when I was the news editor at the paper in Wichita, I was again one of the people who put the paper to bed each night — actually, I was in charge of the people who did that, at that point in my career. The first few months I was there, my family was still back in Tennessee, so I would sometimes stop off at this one bar not too far from the paper with some coworkers.

      We weren’t a very rowdy bunch, though, so it’s unlikely the city fathers would have wanted to shut us down. We’d have a beer or scotch or two. I remember playing some of those horizontal video games in the form of a glass-topped table. Remember those in the 80s? You could put your drink on the table, and look down right through the table top to the screen on which you were playing Space Invaders or Galaga.

      That was about as active as we got. We were still young — I was 31 at the time — but we were really, really tired by that stretch of the evening.

      The only blue-collar job I ever had that went late at night was when I was a dishwasher at the NCO Club at Fort Shafter in Hawaii. It was right after graduating high school. It was a hard job, washing nonstop for eight hours and then cleaning up the kitchen to inspection standards (the official job description on the paperwork was “KP”). I’d end up the night with my T-shirt soaked with a mix of soapy water and grease from cleaning the grill with a brick.

      The whole time I lived in Hawaii was the healthiest I’d ever been. But after a couple of weeks of driving home late at night with the windows down and the wind blowing on my wet, nasty shirt, I got a chest cold.

      Anyway, we didn’t party after work.

      The summer I did construction work, some of us would go get a few long-neck Budweisers (which were kind of a novelty then, in the ’70s) at the Longbranch Saloon (not making this up; that was the name) at the end of the day. But it was generally still light when we went home.

      I don’t sound like much of a partier, do I? I WOULD party during the school year, when not working. But real work kind of took the urge to carouse out of me…

    3. Norm Ivey

      I worked night shift at a printing plant in West Columbia while I was working on my Bachelor’s. Quitting time was 7AM. There were never any bars open, so on Friday mornings we would head to someone’s house or apartment for our unwinding session. When the weather was nice we’d sit outside and laugh at the poor suckers just heading in to work…

  2. Doug Ross

    I’ll give you 2 am bar closings if you give me removing the stupid laws that require places like Greens having separate entrances for beer/wine and liquor — and allow regular liquor stores to stay open later than they do now. Way too much legislative effort is spent on alcohol.

    I personally don’t care when they close. Students drinking after 2 at a bar is probably a sign of other immature choices. You have to choose to go there at that time. Plus with Uber, I’d bet that drunk driving incidents in Five Points are down.

    Also, it would be GREAT if lawmakers who also defend drunk drivers (especially other lawmakers) would recuse themselves from making DUI laws or else choose not to work in that area.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      I agree on the last.

      Frankly, I’m wavering on the 2 a.m. thing. More on that later.

      Why do alcohol laws look crazy? Because lots of people made lots of different rules at different times, because in this country, a) everybody gets a say, and b) that’s not limited in time. This generation gets to pile on last generation’s rules, so in the end you have a situation that doesn’t make sense to Doug. It’s not like someone got up one morning and thought up all these rules as part of a system, thinking they made a coherent whole.

      Also, federalism, which is a great thing. One of the great things about it is that if you think your local liquor laws are crazy, just travel to the next state. Some that I’ve experienced:

      — Tennessee is sort of like us — only they have liquor and wine in one store, and beer in the other. You could get beer in grocery stores, but not wine — at least until recently. They may have changed that a couple of years back.

      — Pennsylvania. Last time I was there you couldn’t buy beer at convenience stores or groceries. But you could buy a six-pack to take away from some bars and restaurants, and most people bought their beer for home at special drive-through places with names like Brew-Thru, where you bought a case at a time.

      — Kansas. You could buy weak 3.2 beer in groceries, but if you wanted the full-strength stuff, you had to buy it from a liquor store.

      It’s a great country. I love it. I don’t want everything standardized like McDonalds…

      1. Norm Ivey

        Those laws are mostly a result of Prohibition, or rather the repeal of it. Federal law says that brewers and distillers must be separated from retailers by a distributor (three-tier system). SC law also prevents any retailer from owning more than 3 ABC stores, so there are a total of 3 Greens (that sell liquor) in SC. Two in Columbia, one in Greenville. There are also only 3 Total Wines that carry liquor–Greenville, Columbia, Charleston. When you start digging into them, they can get really complex.

        Prior to Prohibition (which began in SC in 1916) the only institution that could sell liquor in SC was the state itself. Thanks, Ben Tillman.

        1. Doug Ross

          The only laws we should have related to alcohol are a) how much to tax it, b) what the penalties should be for driving under the influence, and c) what age you can legally drink.

          Anything else related to the production,distribution, or consumption should be repealed. These laws all fall under the category of either protecting big businesses or pushing the morality of some onto others.

          1. Norm Ivey

            The only laws we should have related to alcohol are a) how much to tax it, b) what the penalties should be for driving under the influence, and c) what age you can legally drink.

            No argument here, but that’s not the way it is, and I don’t see those changes coming.

  3. Phillip

    I sympathize with residents of nearby neighborhoods who are concerned about more and more incidents relating to students and drinking in Five Points, especially since I also live nearby and witness this as well. The big underlying issue nobody is talking about is simply that the numbers of students drinking in Five Points is up because USC’s enrollment is up 40% in the last 15 years and heading northwards of 40,000. So naturally incidents are up because the numbers are up, and while most USC kids are OK, you’re always going to have a certain percentage of knuckleheads…so, more students overall, more knuckleheads.

    But I’d rather have the kids drinking in Five Points where it is relatively self-contained, than going home to their rental houses in the neighborhoods (like the one next to our house) and partying there. I think the post-2 AM ban is maybe too broad a tool to use, and I think it might not have the effect Harpootlian and Co. would like, in fact might backfire. And I agree with Phill and Will from the Whig and Porter Barron too from War Mouth— why penalize law-abiding establishments in other neighborhoods for the misdeeds of bars in 5 Points? Can’t there just be effective code enforcement in 5 Points?

  4. Doug Ross

    Isn’t part of the problem bars that overserve customers who are already intoxicated? That’s not a time of day issue. It’s not the drinks at 2 am that are the problem, it’s the seven or eight from 11 to 2

  5. Brad Warthen Post author

    As I said earlier, I’m wavering on this issue. Part of the reason is this long text I got from my daughter who worked for years as a bartender at Yesterday’s (one of the GOOD bars — in fact, my fave):

    Good Morning, Dad! I just saw your post about the 2am thing and I’d like to talk to you about it. I’m against the 2am closing as someone who often got off past 2 when bartending and would sometimes have a drink down the street at bar none. It’s mostly other service industry employees this hurts and they aren’t getting drunk, they’re having a normal happy hour drink, it just happens to be after 2, that’s their social opportunity. And the stupid 5p college and underage bars already close at 2. Those bars irresponsibly overserve these kids and they are causing problems for the community, not places like bar none. It’s a neighborhood bar that’s been there 20 or 30 years run by responsible owners and they’ll have to fire several people if this goes through. I can’t think of any other place that would be hit as hard if this passes, because that’s where service industry people have their after work drink. And they aren’t causing problems, they just happen to be in five points. I’ve also lived in Charleston and gone out a bit and the 2am mass exodus is dangerous. It’s a mess. It won’t fix anything. Drunk kids don’t stay out all night because they aren’t being served past 2 at bar none if they are drunk or underage. This won’t fix the drunk kid problem in five points. For that people need to focus on the crappy disgusting college bars in 5p that serve dollar liquor and automatically ask you if you want a double when you order. And like I said those places to my knowledge already close at 2.

    I bow to the voice of superior experience. And logic….


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