When you’re visiting Charleston South Carolina, you have to visit the downtown section of town on the weekends. On any night in the summer really (every night’s a weekend in Charleston) but the weekends especially bring this event into striking repose. The much hated ‘last call’ – when the bars have to, by law, stop serving alcohol and clear the dregs out from the corner and send them on their way. Last call in Charleston is 2AM and I bear witness to this event seven nights a week. I work the overnight shift at a downtown hotel and even when I’m not working I make a point of staying on my overnight sleeping schedule which usually requires I go out somewhere else so that the quiet house I live in can rest.
I work just south of Market Street, directly in front of Church Street and very nearby Meeting Street and King Street; all major hubs of activity in the downtown Charleston scene. I’m always impressed by how quiet it is leading up to last call. The streets of downtown Charleston are spilled over with activity in the 9 and 10PM hours; people are jockeying for position, roving around from place to place; some couples or families are returning home from dinner; back to their residence or hotel to while the evening away. But around 11 or midnight things get really quiet. The streets become a virtual desert; there is quite literally no one out, no one walking, no one driving; nothing. Occasionally you’ll see an errant bike messenger or cab but really, everyone who’s out at 11:30 is still where they will be until last call.
I just imagine these revelers; the hard-core party kids; all focused in on their goal like a laser beam: they must do “X” they won’t even look at “Y” and if “Z” comes around there’s going to be hell to pay. They have their objective; they want to talk to him, get her number, go home with that one; maybe just after one more shot. Of course this is all just hyperbole; I’m just imagining.
What’s fascinating for me from a sociological standpoint is how quickly all these revelers spill out onto the streets from the last call lights which shine out of bars everywhere. Like middle school children who’ve just been let out of their first fall dance, they all retreat to familiar circles. The new white lights show more than perhaps they wanted shown and they all have their own opinion of that.
Standing in the streets under the guise of full sobriety I look all these beings up and down. They are all chatty and giddy and don’t want the party to end. Just like clockwork though, I can tell you that in thirty minutes the streets will be deserted again. It’s a stark difference; people running out from the shadows like giddy tykes on Christmas morning will shortly be out of my line of sight and onto wherever the next party is going on.
You know it too; you can tell which of these kids intend to keep the party going on and which of these kids are going home and going to wake up with huge headaches. If you’re ever in Charleston and you’d like to take a clear-eyed view into the hazy reality of the party-kid lifestyle, I invite you to come out to my hotel (The Andrew Pinckney Inn) and see what I see seven nights a week.