Bars, restaurants prepare to serve drinks past 11 p.m. as ‘Last Call’ order expires

Bars, restaurants prepare to serve drinks past 11 p.m. as ‘Last Call’ order expires

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Governor McMaster’s Last Call Executive Order stopping alcohol sales and consumption at bars after 11 p.m. has officially been lifted.

Restaurant and bar owners on Main Street and in Five Points said they feel like this day has been a long time coming, with many telling WIS they feel like the order has created more problems than it solved, and they are happy to finally see the last of it.

“I can’t even explain how frustrated I’ve been, along with all of my cohorts in the food and beverage industry,” Kristian Niemi, the owner of Bourbon and Black Rooster, said. “We all live in Columbia. We all drive through Five Points and see what they were aiming at they missed completely and instead hurt us.”

Scott Middleton, the owner of Main Course and The Grand, said the order not only didn’t prevent late-night gatherings of young people as Governor McMaster intended, he feels it made the problem worse.

“We knew all along that the curfew was only pushing different groups of people together at the same time and in the same spaces,” Middleton said.

Governor McMaster put the order into place for that very reason in late July, saying it was an effort to prevent late-night gatherings for young people as cases spiked.

“What was an ill-conceived attempt to prevent them from drinking ended up hurting regular restaurants, like my own, from being able to serve responsible diners,” Niemi said

Middleton and Neimi said it decreased their restaurant’s revenue and creating confusion for their customers. They said it was difficult to explain to those traveling to the area, and sometimes disincentivized people from eating and drinking out if it was close to the last call.

“What we are finding is that those people who are coming here on business are having a tough time understanding why I have to tell them, ‘you can order a cocktail or a glass of wine with your steak, but at 11 If you aren’t done with it, I have to take it away from you,” Neimi said.

Steve Cook, the President of the Five Points Association, said he thinks it made the crowding worse in Five Points.

“What it basically caused is for folks who wanted to go to the bars-- they would come out at the exact same time folks were coming out to restaurants, people were still out shopping, and things like that,” Cook said.

Cook said he believes lifting the order will alleviate some of the bottlenecks.

“I think with the 11 p.m. curfew if there are people that have some trepidation that it’s going to cause more problems, I think it actually makes it better,” Cook said.

Many restaurant owners said they feel like they can see the light at the end of the tunnel with the order being lifted. They said they expect an increase in customers with the order being lifted and the weather getting nicer, but that it will actually be more manageable with people flowing in at different times.

Columbia Fire Department officials told WIS they will be out enforcing compliance with the mask ordinance but are also hopeful that it will ease crowding with the increased hours.

The restrictions on large gatherings also lifted today. Residents will no longer need approval from the SC Department of Commerce for gatherings of more than 250 people.

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