There are a few places near Coastal Carolina University in which an underage student can buy a drink. Admission into bars has become the new price to pay for students wishing to get in, but the steep costs have yet to be a successful deterrent.
Coastal Carolina University has been attempting to rid itself of its stigmatized “party school” status since 2017. A 2017 study released by ProjectKnow.com collected information on liquor law violations in all large four-year colleges in the nation. Coastal Carolina had the highest amount of these violations with a total of 1,081 arrests that year. CCU responded by increasing disciplinary efforts, such as enforcing mandatory alcohol education training for incoming students. According to CCU’s 2019 Clery report, the number of violations was reduced to 890.
According to Zoe Stephenson, a sophomore at Coastal Carolina, this reduction can be contributed to the diligent efforts of campus police.
“Honestly, parties don’t last long here, especially if they’re close to campus,” said Stephenson. “They’re usually shut down by police before 12 even hits, so we jump around for most of the night or go to a bar.”
Students frequent Tongy’s, Shmack House, The American Tavern, and The Coop. Due to their proximity to campus, these bars cater to larger crowds than bars farther from campus. Even if students arrive at a bar, however, admission is not guaranteed.
Corrine Murtha, who has been employed at Tongy’s for five years, explains that the bar management has strict rules for underage patrons. This is especially important because Coastal students make up so much of Tongy’s crowd.
“[Underage students] are allowed in until nine, but after nine they have to be 21 to get in,” Murtha says. “It’s easier for us that way. We don’t have to worry about underage students drinking if they aren’t in the bar.”
Zach Stephenson, a bouncer at The American Tavern and Tongy’s, said the American Tavern follows a similar policy.
“[The American Tavern] doesn’t let in underage students. But, if they’re there, it’s because they have a really good fake [ID],” said Stephenson. “Still, about 90% of the people we let in are students and a few locals.”
The most popular of the three bars, The Coop, allows admission regardless of age. Visitors 21 or older have free admission and receive a special wristband. Underage students, though, must pay a covercharge that can range from $10 to $50 at the door, have their hands marked with an X, and wear a different signifying wristband.
The manager of The Coop, Joe Sabetelli, acknowledges the high cost of entry, but says the stipulation will not be changing.
“When letting [underage students] in, we still have to consider revenue,” said Sabetelli. “We have one of the only places [underage students] can go to enjoy themselves, but when they get in, they can’t buy any of our drinks. The cover they pay makes up for the losses that we take by letting them into the bar.”
Due to the price of bar admission and the lack of additional venues for students to enjoy the night, many students have purchased fake identification cards.
“The amount of fakes I see on a night is absolutely incredible,” said Stephenson. “Some are pretty good, but most are terrible. For the most part though, I don’t think it’s a problem. It’s not really a problem when 20-year-olds have fakes. The problem is that 17-year-olds and 18-year-olds get into bars, and don’t know how to handle their alcohol, so they get into fights outside or drive while drunk. They’re more prone to doing stupid things. But for 20-year-olds, it’s a little bit different.”
According to CCU Captain Thomas Mezzapelle, fake IDs are not only an issue at bars, but on campus as well.
“In a full calendar year, we make around 200 alcohol related arrests, so a few every weekend. About one-third of the underage people we arrest due to alcohol related offenses are in possession of a fake ID,” said Mezzapelle.
According to Coastal Law, a firm based in Myrtle Beach, students face heavy charges if caught acting against the ordinances.
Students who are caught with alcohol and false identification are charged with a misdemeanor and are likely to receive two separate charges for intent. These charges can be served by any combination of the following: 30 days in jail, attendance of alcohol safety training classes, and/or a fine of $200.
Despite these consequences, many CCU students prefer to take the risk. Rather than paying a $50 cover charge for The Coop, some would rather purchase a fake ID and gain free access to the bar.