A longtime critic of Five Points bars, Harpootlian files bill to amend SC liquor law

Democratic state Sen. Dick Harpootlian is now taking his bar battles to the South Carolina State House.

Harpootlian, a Columbia Democrat, attorney and the former chairman of the state Democratic Party, has filed legislation that would make plain the percentage of food and nonalcoholic beverages that an establishment would have to sell in order to maintain a liquor license.

Under current state law, establishments that serve liquor by the drink must be “engaged primarily and substantially in the preparation and serving of meals,” and must be equipped with a kitchen utilized for cooking meals, have menus for food posted or readily available for customers to see, and must prepare “hot meals” for customers each day they are open.

But the legislation being filed by Harpootlian would also require that more than half of a bar’s gross revenue come from the sale of food and nonalcoholic drinks.

The amendment would require that an establishment “derives gross revenue from its sale of meals and food, and nonalcoholic beverages, that is not less than 51 percent of its total gross revenue from the sale of meals and food, nonalcoholic beverages and, alcoholic beverages.”

Harpootlian filed the legislation Tuesday.

While the liquor amendment would apply to establishments statewide, Harpootlian and his law firm have long been tangling with bars in Columbia’s Five Points nightlife and shopping district.

The senator’s firm has often represented neighbors of the leafy neighborhoods surrounding Five Points in various protests of bars’ liquor licenses, and antagonized the district for what he sees as bad behavior stemming from the watering holes there that have, for years, been popular with students from the nearby University of South Carolina.

In the last few years, several Five Points bars The Roost, Cover 3, and The Horseshoe among them closed amid battles over liquor licenses with Harpootlian and the neighborhoods. And the push against bars continues. The Post and Courier reported Monday that liquor licenses at least 11 bars in the district currently are under protest with the state Department of Revenue.

Now Harpootlian wants to make the percentage of food an establishment must sell clear in state law.

“We never passed legislation defining what ‘primary’ and ‘substantial’ meant, that’s what this does,” Harpootlian told The State.

While the attorney has never shied away from assailing Five Points college bars, he said the new legislation is not meant just to target the popular USC hangout.

“It’s not just Five Points, Charleston’s got the same problem with bars,” Harpootlian said, pointing out that he hopes the law would make it where “you don’t have big rooms with a bar on one end, a concrete floor, sh***y band or a DJ,” and a lot of liquor being served in volumes far beyond the amount of food being served.

This story will be updated. Maayan Schechter contributed to this report.

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