Tonight, Charleston City Council will consider an ordinance requiring new bars and restaurants in the King-Meeting-Market areas to close at midnight. And there's a good chance it'll pass. Why? Mayor Joe Riley and Police Chief Greg Mullen are behind it, and together, they've have been working hand-in-hand as a two-man rebranding crew, transforming Charleston into a town that's fit for fearful fuddy-duddy foodies from the 'burbs and fanny packers from Ohio, who find the Holy City's street to be just a little too "urban" for their tastes. So far, Joe and the Chief have gotten what they want.
In part, the town's F&B community is to blame. When City Council voted on last year's Late Night Entertainment Ordinance — a draconian measure that requires bars to police the streets and creates a secretive "star chamber" which decides whether or not a bar can renew its business license — the bar owners remained largely silent. At the time, this seemed like the safe option. No one wanted to ruffle the feathers of the anti-fun regime. This was a mistake.
Now, Riley and Mullen are even more empowered than they were before. And so they're going after new bars in the so-called entertainment districts in downtown. According to a city zoning official, the 12 a.m. law is not intended to apply to existing business. When it comes to this new zoning ordinance, they are grandfathered in. However, there is no guarantee that their 2 a.m. closing time is forever written in stone. The city could later pass an ordinance requiring these remaining bars to close at 12 a.m. regardless of whether they are grandfathered in. After all, how do you think we got the 2 a.m. closing time to begin with?
The important thing here is a precedent has been set. If many of the new businesses in the so-called entertainment districts close at 12 a.m., that'll only make City Council's eventual decision to close all bars at 12 a.m. that much easier. This is just the first step.
And the Dastardly Duo aren't just shutting down bars. They want to close new grocery stores, convenience stores, gas stations, and restaurants from midnight to 6 a.m. Oddly enough, bars and restaurants inside hotels will be allowed to stay open. Make of that what you will.
As for what the motivations behind the ordinance, well, when it comes down to it, but Riley and Mullen believe we have too many bars and restaurants in town. Don't take my word for it. It's right there in the ordinance, up for initial consideration tonight: