23 is the new 21 in Charleston
Updated: Nov 17
By Jayne Antino
Young adults are thrilled to turn 21 so they can legally drink alcohol and go to bars.
To their surprise, there’s a unique new rule that some of the most popular downtown Charleston bars have implemented - you must be 23 or older to enter their bars.
This is a tactic to attract a more mature crowd that will spend more money and behave pleasantly. Essentially, no one wants overly drunk college kids at their bars.
Nelson Burch, manager of King Street Dispensary, implemented the rule for his bar after experiencing repeated bad behavior from younger guests.
“We saw some of the kids that were coming in at 21 acting immature…just having disregard to what we were asking them and wanting the cheapest thing on the menu, not tipping our staff, and kind of just causing problems and throwing up in the middle of the afternoon,” said Burch.
College students drinking excessively
There is a culture of drinking heavily among college students in Charleston that often results in disrespectful and undesirable behavior that bars don’t want to put up with anymore.
“75% of kids that were coming in here just had a ‘I’m gonna get as drunk as I can because I’m in a bar and I want to take shots’ attitude,” Burch said.
Students at the College of Charleston describe their school as a party school and agree that drinking heavily on the weekends is a norm.
“I think college kids can be disrespectful and the style that people drink in colleges is that you kind of get as drunk as possible,” said Jess Chase, a senior at the College of Charleston.
“A lot of the time that's going to turn into super bad behavior.”
The culture of heavy drinking often causes other issues such as being disrespectful to staff and other guests.
Chase has seen her fair share of college kids with no regard for bartenders or the people around them.
“I’ve seen people be really rude to bartenders and demand things from them,” said Chase.
“Also, people dance crazily and bump into people. When people do get really drunk they are tripping all over the place. They don’t have much consideration for the people around them.”
This careless behavior also occasionally results in damaged items.
“The general breaking of toilets and things getting trashed are expensive for a business. It’s $500 (for the new appliance) and you have to have someone install it which is another $300,” said Burch. “Those things add up. Broken bar stools, etc.”
On the other hand, 21- and 22-year-olds in Charleston are frustrated that they can’t go to the bars that they once enjoyed.
In addition to King Street Dispensary, Chase named a few other bars she’s been denied entry - Henry’s Rooftop, Ink Cocktail Lounge and Cocktail Club.
21 and 22-year-olds express frustration with the new rule
“I loved going to Dispensary with all my friends for the live band and outdoor patio,” said Alexa Wardwell, a senior at the College of Charleston. “When I got denied because I wasn’t 23, I was pretty mad. I’m not sure how they are allowed to do that.”
Federal law requires people to be 21 or older to enter a bar, but there are no laws that say businesses can’t increase the minimum age for people that they let into their bar.
Burch has gotten some negative feedback from the 21 and 22-year-olds when told they can’t be let into his bar.
“It’s all from the kids we are not letting in - or young adults we are not letting in,” he said. “Sometimes they cop an attitude and they yell at us and they say ‘eff off’ and that’s exactly why we don’t have you in here. Some people just want to know what the reason is and I explain that we do bend that rule for respectful young people that are seniors in college.”
The older crowd has found their place
Many people in the older crowd who go out downtown love this new rule and have been able to find their place at bars like Dispensary that are outside of the chaotic college scene.
“There’s still going to be places for kids to go to, but we are a small venue so being able to control and have the crowd that we want is what is most beneficial to us as a business,” said Burch. “We were able to pull back some of the people who weren’t coming here that are coming back now. They know that this is a safe spot away from some of the other chaotic places on King street.”
Burch said that although a bar can get out of hand no matter what the rules are, the overall maturity inside of his bar has gone up a lot and it has benefited his business.
A 24-year-old College of Charleston alum and Charleston resident Wade Summer prefers going to bars like King Street Dispensary with the 23+ rule. Although, he does understand the frustration of college students.
“I like it because it keeps the college crowd out,” said Summer. “But, again, it sucks for people who are 21 and waited so long to be 21 and they can’t get into a bar. But, it does help keep out college kids that just aren't mature enough.”
The 23+ rule at some of the bars in downtown Charleston has frustrated college kids but attracted an older crowd.
After dealing with disorderly behavior typically from overly intoxicated college students, managers such as Burch felt it was necessary to implement this rule.
The rule has resulted in a more mature, relaxed crowd that separates them from the rest of the chaos on King Street, Burch says. Managers such as Burch believe that this rule has been good for their business and he plans on keeping it in place.
“The older crowd loves it,” Burch said. “The people that are around 30, 40 years old that are coming in here four days a week enjoy it because they know that they are not having to worry about some asshole sitting inside.”