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Columbia late-night bar proposal passes 1st reading

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Travis Boland
  • Travis Boland
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Editor's note: A previous version of this story contained incorrect information. Marty Dreesen is the owner of Bar None. Bar None serves food until 4:30 a.m., and Dreesen said its food and alcohol sales are split 50-50 between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. The story has been updated.

Columbia bars that stay open past 2 a.m. could be seeing a significant price increase for permits after City Council voted Tuesday to move forward on the reading of a proposal that would make several changes to the current ordinance.

If the revisions are passed, the initial fee for an after-hours permit would be raised to $2,500 plus a $100 application fee. Annual renewal would cost $1,000 for a bar that has had no legal citations the previous year.

The current permit fee is $50. For bars that have received citations, renewal fees could be as high as $10,000.

Other amendments would:

  • Require bars to be in operation for at least two years before they are eligible to apply for an after-hours permit
  • Require bars to provide a copy of their food menus with their applications for after-hours permits
  • Prohibit bars from offering drink discounts after 2 a.m. (Bars are currently allowed to serve only beer and wine, not liquor, past 2 a.m., per state law.)
  • Prohibit bar owners from transferring their after-hours permits to new bar owners

Prior to the vote, council held two public hearings featuring speakers from both sides of the issue.

Representatives from neighborhoods around the Five Points district wanted a complete repeal of the late-night permits, forcing all bars to close at 2 a.m. Complaints of criminal activity and other disruptions led Councilman Howard Duvall to propose the across-the-board closings.

Councilman Daniel Rickenmann, a member of the public safety committee along with councilmen Ed McDowell and Sam Davis, opposed the early closings. The committee drafted the amendments to the current law.

Some speakers Tuesday felt the amendments were “pro-bar” and didn’t help the current situation.

Rickenmann said the current proposal “has teeth” and does make a difference.

“Is it perfect? No, but we’re not done with it, and we’re willing to listen,” Rickenmann said. “In moving forward, there is understanding we will work with folks to tweak what we can do to give people more comfort. This proposal gives the police the ability to enforce.”

Sean McManus, a proponent of the late-night permits, said the issues being brought up by residents of Five Points neighborhoods would not be addressed with a repeal.

“It doesn’t magically make students drink less,” he said. “They have some legitimate gripes, but it won’t put more cops on the streets or close any bars.”

Marty Dreesen, owner of Bar None in Five Points, told the council not all bars are created equal. He said his business model is different from other bars in the district.

“I don’t cater to college kids,” he said. “The ones that usually show up order cheese fries and water.”

Dreesen, who serves food until 4:30 a.m., said his business is “50-50” when it comes to food and alcohol sales from 2 a.m. to 4 a.m. 

After the vote, Mayor Steve Benjamin said there have been significant issues raised during the last several weeks, including the increase in the number of students at USC, a growing awareness of mental health and dependency issues and the importance of people being able to enjoy their homes. Benjamin said ongoing discussions could lead to amendments between now and a second reading.

“Having read this ordinance, a business whose model is to feed alcohol to underage drinkers is not going to survive, and under the new ordinance should not survive,” Benjamin said.

Reach Travis Boland at colanews@scbiznews.com.

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