CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - The conversation around the congested downtown Charleston bar scene continues, and on Tuesday night, Charleston City Council members passed the first reading of an ordinance that would allow some bars to stay open until 3 a.m.
This "soft closing" recommendation was made by the Late Night Activity Review committee, a group of 21 business owners, food and beverage industry workers, and community members.
The committee believes letting some bars stay open until 3 a.m. will alleviate traffic and noise problems, as well as help with the crowds that typically fill the streets when the bars shut down at 2 a.m.
There are conditions for those bars who opt for the later time. They will still have to stop serving alcohol, including wine and beer, at 2 a.m. Music must also stop, and the establishment lights must be turned on to their highest level. Patrons will not be able to re-enter the bar once they've left.
However, those customers who stay in the bar will be able to buy food and non-alcoholic beverages from 2 to 3 a.m., allowing extra time to exit.
The "soft closing" time has been successful in other cities, according to Charleston police officer Lt. Heath King, who served as police liaison to the committee. Though King said adjusting the close time wouldn't be a "silver bullet" to fix issues such as drinking and driving or traffic, there could be an impact on these issues if enough bars participate.
Affected areas of the Peninsula include bars along St. Philip, King, Meeting, Market and East Bay Streets, according to the ordinance. The 3 a.m. close would be voluntary for bar owners, King said, and while he did not have details of the number of those participating, King said these owners must inform the Charleston police department seven business days in advance of implementing the extra hour.
The "soft closing" option isn't available to bars yet. as the Charleston City Council will review the ordinance again at its next meeting on September 8. If approved, the ordinance would launch with a 90 day pilot program, at which time the city would collect data to evaluate its overall effectiveness.