As you’d expect, nightlife in Columbia  centers around the college scene, especially in Five Points. The Vista appeals to yuppies, tourists, and well-heeled locals as well. There’s no smoking in all bars, restaurants, and public places in Columbia.
Any discussion of Columbia, and specifically of Five Points, nightlife should begin with Jake’s Bar & Grill (2112 Devine St., 803/252-5253, Mon.–Thurs. 4 p.m.–2 a.m., Fri. 3 p.m.–2 a.m., Sat.–Sun. noon–2 a.m.). Formerly called “Rockafella’s,” and a place that often hosted Hootie and the Blowfish when they were getting their start, this remains the quintessential Five Points neighborhood joint despite its new name. The beer list is a long one, and the outdoor deck is a great place to chill on a nice night.
Speaking of Hootie and the Blowfish, the space where they first played in Five Points is at Pub on Santee (733 Santee St., 803/256-4292), back when it was called Monterrey Jack’s.
Not to be outdone is Five Points Pub (2020 Devine St., 803/253-7888, Mon. and Sat. 8 p.m.–2 a.m., Tues.–Fri. 5 p.m.–2 a.m.). With one entrance on Devine and another on Santee, this cavernous space might confuse you into thinking it’s two establishments. This is the place to go for live music, good company (heavy on the college crowd), and passable bar food.
For a more laidback, Deadhead vibe and a late, late night scene, go to Tavern on Greene (2002-C Greene St., 803/252-7265, Mon.–Fri. 4 p.m.–4 a.m., Sat.–Sun. 6 p.m.–2 a.m.), commonly known as Five Points’ “hippie bar” (though hippie is a relative term in the South).
For what’s widely considered the best beer in town, try the Hunter Gatherer Brewery (900 Main St., 803/748-0540, Tues.–Sat. 4 p.m.–midnight), which though considerably more artsy than your typical brewpub, offers some delectable artisan beers on tap.
One night when I was in Goatfeather’s (2017 Devine St., 803/256-3325, daily 4 p.m.–2 a.m., kitchen closes 9 p.m. Sun.–Wed., 10 p.m. Thurs.–Sat.) in Five Points, they had a massive “Obama” banner hanging over the bar, and I strongly suspect it’s still there. While Goatfeather’s is probably not much fun if you’re a conservative, its hipster appeal, swank furnishings, and dimly-lit retro vibe definitely make for a fun bar scene, and the kitchen fare is outstanding.
The closest thing to a Five Points-style dive in the Vista is The Whig (1200 Main St., 803/931-8852 daily 4 p.m.–2 a.m., kitchen closes 10 p.m.), a bohemian/slacker joint with what’s generally considered the best jukebox in town.
While Five Points is the place to go for live music, the Vista’s main live music venue is Headliners (700 Gervais St., 803/796-2333), which is more the kind of place where the music, rather than beer-soaked bonhomie, is the focus, both from onstage and on the huge dance floor.
If you’re a pool shark, head down to Jillian’s (800 Gervais St., 803/779-7789, Mon.–Wed. 11:30 a.m.–midnight, Thurs. and Sun. 11:30 a.m.–1 a.m., Fri. 11:30 a.m.–3 a.m., Sat. 11:30 a.m.–2 a.m.), a pool hall-cum-sports bar in the Vista. If you can’t hustle a game at a table, you can certainly watch a game on any one of nearly 30 big-screens.
The only rooftop bar in town is in the Carolina Ale House (798 Lady St., 803/227-7150, www.carolinaalehouse.com , daily 11 a.m.–2 a.m.), also known for its hearty grill items and its late kitchen hours. They have nearly three dozen beers on tap and about 40 bottled brands.
Serious beer connoisseurs should head directly for the Flying Saucer (931 Senate St., 803/933-9997, www.beerknurd.com , Mon.–Wed. 11 a.m.–1 a.m., Thurs.–Sat. 11 a.m.–2 a.m., Sun. noon–midnight), which offers—wait for it—over 80 beers on tap, in addition to nearly 150 bottled brands.
But taking the cake for interesting and eclectic Columbia  nightlife experiences is The Art Bar (1211 Park St., 803/929-0198, Mon.–Wed. 8 p.m.–2 a.m., Thurs. 8 p.m.–3 a.m., Fri. 8 p.m.–4 a.m.; Sat.–Sun. 8 p.m.–2 a.m.) down by the Vista. Impossible to pigeon-hole, The Art Bar is a college dive, a hipster hangout, a goth gathering place, a live music mecca, a crazy karaoke scene, and a gay bar, all in one intriguing package. Just come with an open mind and you’ll find a way to fit right in.
The main gay/lesbian bar in town is PTs Cabaret (1101 Harden St., 803/758-6090, www.pts1109.com , Mon.–Sat. 8 p.m.–close). They have various drag shows at various cover charges; for more info go to their MySpace page at www.myspace.com/ptscabaret .