Harpootlian again challenges liquor license of Five Points’ Group Therapy bar

Attorney Dick Harpootlian is again challenging the liquor license of Group Therapy, an iconic Five Points bar that he and other nearby residents believe contribute to unruly behavior in the retail village.

Harpootlian, a Democratic state senator from Richland County, filed protests with the state Department of Revenue challenging the licenses of Group Therapy and another Five Points establishment, Saloon. It’s the second time Harpootlian has challenged the liquor license of Group Therapy, which is owned by former USC quarterback Steve Taneyhill.

The protests were filed on July 2 on behalf of Coley Franklin Adams, former president of the Wales Garden Neighborhood Association. They claim that the bars don’t comply with the state’s requirements for businesses that sell liquor by the drink also “primarily and substantially” serve meals.

In the protest filed with the DOR, Adams argues that neither bar serves a “meal” as defined by South Carolina law and that Saloon operates outside of “normal meal times,” with hours from 8 p.m. to 2 a.m.

The filing also argues that these bars are primarily and substantially in the business of serving alcohol to college students, not in the business of serving meals.

Taneyhill’s attorney, Bakari Sellers, said there’s “no reason” to shut down Group Therapy. “Steve has made all of the necessary upgrades to the establishment,” Sellers said. “He’s a valued partner of the Five Points community.”

“The irony is that the same people who are protesting are the same people who partied there while they were in school at the University of South Carolina,” Sellers said.

Officials with Saloon could not be reached for comment.

Harpootlian has challenged at least a half dozen liquor licenses in Five Points over the years at the request of nearby neighbors who think the bars lead to loud and troublesome behavior from the college-aged crowd that the bars attract.

Most recently, Harpootlian successfully shutdown Moosehead Saloon and Pavlovs in 2021, both formerly popular among college students.

Harpootlian claims things have gotten better for the area since these closings.

“The conditions in Five Points are significantly better,” Harpootlian said. “Clearly we don’t have any dive bars serving 18-year-olds $1 shots — those are out of business — and DOR has done a pretty good job of enforcing the under 21 laws.”

However, he says the environment in Five Points is “still inconsistent with the law and the Constitution.”

Harpootlian first tried to stop the renewal of Group Therapy’s liquor license in 2021 but was unsuccessful. This time, they have a “different approach and different grounds,” he said.

But Sellers said: “There was no reason to shut Group Therapy down then and there’s no reason to shut it down now.”

Both Group Therapy and Saloon have food menus listed on Google, with Saloon’s menu being much longer.

Group Therapy is one of the longest standing bars in Columbia, first opening in 1978.

“Group Therapy is not some pop-up, hole in the wall spot,” Sellers said. “Its been a place where USC students and young adults from Darius Rucker forward have all gone to enjoy themselves, and maybe even Dick Harpootlian.”

Harpootlian said he “may have been going to Group Therapy 30 something years ago, but the issue is Group Therapy today, not the nostalgia of yesteryear.”