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Columbia Business Monthly

This Cannot Be Tolerated

Mar 06, 2018 02:11PM ● By Emily Stevenson
By John Temple Ligon
Principal, Gervais Studio

Columbia is trying to decide how late is late enough to serve alcohol over the bar. Columbia City Council’s public safety committee, led by council member Daniel Rickenmann, held an opportunity for public input on bar closing times on Feb. 7 at City Hall.
The place was packed. The strongest turnout appeared to be people who supported roughly what Columbia has had since 2011, which was when Columbia lost its unique characteristic of all-night bars and a 2 a.m. closing time was put into effect with the exception of special permits for a 4 a.m. closing.

I attended the 10:00 a.m. public hearing with the expectation to speak. By the time I took my seat, the sign-up list was closed, but I knew there would be a call for any remaining speakers at the exhaustion of the sign-up sheet.

Before I was invited to come forward to speak, neighborhood activists Kit Smith and attorney Dick Harpootlian offered a few minutes each of their opinions. Both objected to the 4 a.m. closing time and both asked to keep the 2 a.m. closing time in effect. Harpootlian has recently finished his town mansion on a double lot overlooking the green clay tennis courts on St. James, and Smith about the same time has sold her house on Edisto in order to take occupancy a lot or two away from Harpootlian on Wateree. In other words, Smith and Harpootlian have skin in the game.

Smith introduced herself as the chief representative speaking on behalf of the Coalition of Five Points Neighborhoods. Harpootlian identified himself as an attorney. Both were formerly elected members of Richland County Council, but neither was appearing as an elected official because neither was still an elected official.

So, who asked Smith to speak? Who asked Harpootlian to speak? Neighbors, presumably.

Neither cited the authoritative “Field Guide to Drinking in America,” which lists all 50 states and the District of Columbia and their bar closing times. They should have. The average closing time in the United States appears to be around 2 a.m., glaring exceptions being the 24-hour policy in Nevada and 5 a.m. in Alaska. New York City closes its bars at 4 a.m. Plenty of states honor local determination, county-by-county decision making, kind of like what Columbia had prior to 2011 when all-night bars were allowed.

When I was a downtown Columbia bartender (Forum Lounge) and undergraduate student back in the Dark Ages, we would clean out the place in the early a.m., lock the doors and take off for a little down time – the White Castle pool hall on Broad River Road comes to mind. The pool hall was always filled after 2 a.m. with bartenders and wait staff. We had our own subset of the population. Later, it was time for coffee and pie and bed. At the 24-hour diner, we looked like a local reinterpretation of Hopper’s Night Hawks. Still before sunup, we went our separate ways for bed, relaxed after time in the White Castle pool hall and the Dobbs House.

Point being, every city has a roving citizenry between 2 a.m. and sunup, people who work in hospitals, farmers’ markets, delivery vehicles, security, all kinds of jobs during the graveyard shift. The after-2 a.m. crowd needs the access to the city just as much as the 9-5 daytime conventional types.

Then there are the hedonists, the ones who don’t want to go home because they are having too good of a time.

It’s the hedonists, judging by what was testified at Rickenmann’s hearing, that Smith and Harpootlian et al. objected to. Following Smith and Harpootlian, others chimed in with the same horrors of what they saw in their front yards after 4 a.m.

Keep in mind: Smith and Harpootlian live on the protected top of Wheeler Hill by the tennis courts where no one - drunk or sober – ever wanders across front yards uninvited.

At the end of the sign-up list, I offered my mild reaction on top of the Smith-Harpootlian reaction.

I said I had lived on Terrace Way for six years. My yard connects Terrace Way with Blossom Street and all its pedestrian activity. Not once, I said, have I seen a drunk in my backyard on Blossom or my yard facing Terrace Way. Not once.

I warned the crowd Columbia had a winner in its night traffic, all kinds of people from all kinds of places. For better or for worse Columbia is a drinker’s destination, and misbehaving though it may be, it is part of the city’s charm. It would be a shame to lose that. Ask the city’s visitors.

I reported on my weekend Airbnb travelers who paid to stay in my back bedroom to take advantage of my Terrace Way close proximity to Five Points – one block. These were three French college girls from out of town with no automobile, all happy to have a place roughly equidistant between Nightcaps and Bar None, two 4:00 a.m. closing time places known across the state.

Then I held my right palm to my right ear and asked if anyone in the room could hear it. I suggested it was barely a whisper, but I thought I heard the possibility someone somewhere was trying to have a good time. In stark horror I called across the Columbia City Council chambers to neighborhood (my neighborhood) activists Smith and Harpootlian to stomp it out immediately.

(Editor’s note: John Temple Ligon’s opinions are his own and do not necessarily represent those of Columbia Business Monthly.)