Midland residents enjoy a beer outside at one of Bierkeller’s pop-ups in West Columbia. (Photo courtesy of Bierkeller)
The St. Patrick’s Day celebration in Five Points is right around the corner, and for a lot of people that means one thing – being able to enjoy a beer outside.
“People like to get out and celebrate and drink at festivals just like they do at breweries or any other outdoor restaurant,” said Five Points festival director, Dave Britt.
Although St. Pat’s in Five Points is the mecca of outdoor drinking in the Columbia area, having a beer outside has become commonplace for most Columbians.
With the addition of various local micro-breweries and beer gardens such as Columbia Craft, River Rat Brewery, and the Riverfront’s newest installation, Bierkeller, imbibing outside has become much more normalized.
“It doesn’t get better than enjoying beautiful weather with friends while drinking a beer,” said Natalia Vallejo, a River Rat regular.
But that’s an idea that still is seen as taboo within parts of the Bible belt of the Southern United States.
“Anyone that’s grown up here has some remembrance that (it) is strict, about how alcohol is a sin,” said Scott Burgess, owner of Bierkeller Columbia, which used to hold pop-up sites.
Three decades ago, you couldn’t buy beer in South Carolina on a Sunday. Remnants of this can still be seen in S.C. laws today, Burgess said.
Taxes for alcohol production in South Carolina are the third highest in the nation. Burgess said that people in the industry like to call it a “sin tax.”
Unlike New Orleans’ Bourbon Street, where outside drinking is normal, many local ordinances in South Carolina make it unlawful to possess an open container outdoors without a permit.
“I think there’s still a conception here in people’s brains that they don’t want their grandmother or someone to see them out in public drinking,” Burgess said.
But what exactly is this drinking revolution that is happening in a place like South Carolina? International influence seems to be the root of the cause.
“The Germans have perfected this, especially in Munich and Bavaria,” Burgess said. “These monks have perfected the art of brewing over the course of 1,000 years. And they’ve perfected this art of relaxation within the city and just making yourself feel at home while you’re away.”
That’s something that Burgess and others increasingly have noticed in Columbia and the South as a whole.
The American stigma surrounding drinking may still be inherently unfavorable due to the drunken horror stories most kids in the United States hear while growing up. But Burgess said things do not necessarily need to be that way.
Burgess hopes to show with Bierkeller that there are better and safer ways to do things.
“We’ve shown it in the pop-ups that it’s not a party atmosphere – hours aren’t geared towards that setting,” said Burgess. “The entire vibe is geared more towards what you see over there in Germany, over the course of the day bringing your pets, bringing your kids, bringing a picnic lunch to the beer gardens.”
Burgess says it’s about getting outside and enjoying nature, leaving the hustle and bustle of everyday lives, sitting at communal tables, talking, eating and enjoying the sunshine.
Can this hold true for a much larger and rowdy crowd that the St. Patrick’s Day festival will attract?
Since it’s one of the biggest St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in the Southeast, safety measures are essential. The Five Points Association has had 41 years to prepare for every scenario possible.
“We have a huge police presence there – a significant number of officers and staff to make sure that the public safety is taken care of,” Britt said.
Licensed alcohol serving stations are mapped with the help of the S.C. Department of Revenue, bartenders are trained not to over-serve and there are designated pick-up and drop-off areas to promote Uber and Lyft use.
“We just really try to promote an atmosphere of personal responsibility and drinking responsibly,” Britt said.