A new city ordinance requiring certain bars to station bouncers at their doors probably wasn’t meant to protect Charleston’s citizenry from Cotes du Rhone drinkers who huddle around candlelit tables, debating the finer points of French cheese. But because the law applies equally to bars serving liquor and bars serving only beer and wine, Bin 152 is now being forced to pay a door person three nights a week.
“We have 10 to 15 people sitting at the bar, and most of them are there to get away from the drunkenness of upper King,” owner Patrick Panella says of his late-night crowd, adding that he’s never been approached by a patron demanding a last-call shot of Silver Oak. “At the end of the night, everyone’s very polite and cordial.”
According to the ordinance, bars open until 2 a.m. must have at least one security person and one door person on duty after midnight on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights; Exact numbers are contingent upon maximum occupancy limits. The ordinance also stipulates that bar owners monitor parking lots used by patrons; keep their sidewalks clear and close their windows and doors by 11 p.m. if music’s playing.
Panella isn’t aware of any other late-night Charleston bars which don’t serve liquor. He chose not to apply for a spirits license because he didn’t want to deal with rowdy drinkers or the staffing needed to keep them in line.
“In four years, we’ve never had a single noise complaint,” he says. “This is the baby getting thrown out with the bathwater.”
Although the ordinance was adopted last May, Charleston Police Department Sgt. Heath King says his officers prioritized education over enforcement after realizing “everybody was really confused” about how to comply with the measure. The department shifted to enforcement on Nov. 1, although King says officers are still more likely to issue warnings than citations.
“We’re ending that probably real soon,” he adds, declining to give a specific date.
Officers three or four months ago approached Panella to review the ordinance. “I didn’t even know about it until after it passed,” says Panella, who’s spoken to a few city council members about revising the code to exempt bars like Bin 152.
“Unless something gets amended, they fit smack into the category,” King says. “It doesn’t fit the mystique of the ordinance, but they’re required to have (a door person.)”
So for now, Panella is scheduling his regular staffers to spend extra hours patrolling the door.
“It’s more awkward than anything else,” Panella says. “It doesn’t really make sense.”