It was Monday night and like most Monday nights, most of my friends weren’t quite up to heading deeper into downtown for some nightlife. Fraternity Row was quiet; the registered party fiascos were over and one house was silently dealing with a sexual assault case (they still are). So, with nothing better to do and some time to kill, a couple of my friends and I head over to The 901 Bar & Grill, better known as “The 9-0.” Or as I like to call it, “The Plan B.”
The Plan B…sorry…The 9-0 is never anyone’s first choice in ways to spend an evening. And if it is, you must be one of the following: not 21 but have a reasonable fake, have never been INSIDE, or are completely naïve and have no perspective. In no way is this meant to disrespect The 9-0. It is a legitimate mid-sized bar on Figueroa and 28th that neighborhoods a Panda Express and an El Pollo Loco. However, it is meant as disrespect to the lack of hangouts surrounding USC and, to a lesser extent, the crowd that congregates inside and outside of “Plan B” (sorry, I couldn’t help myself).
Walking to the corner of 28th and Figueroa, I se that the line is LONG. It wraps around the north side of the building. It’s 10pm on a Monday night and I’m standing in line with young college kids (and I mean YOUNG), athletes who either have nothing better to do or didn’t get into a frat party, and (thank God for these ones) the usual crowd. The girls are wearing way too much makeup and perfume, the guys too much hair gel. The athletes are dressed in oversized clothing and wander around looking for friends they hope will recognize them. However, the usual suspects keep everything together; not too anxious to get in, and not dressed or expressed in a way that looks to draw too much narcissistic attention. Luckily for me, I’ve made company with the usual crowd. The occasional lighting of a cigarette and the chuckle of a good memory remembered soften the blow of the cackling blondes in line behind us. Their anxiety to get in exposes their sobriety. Newbies indeed. Fifteen minutes later, we are inside.
Packed. Absolutely packed. Flat screen TVs playing ESPN. Signed Matt Leinart and Kobe Bryant jerseys line the walls. A DJ is nestled like a cuckoo clock in a nook near the ceiling. Everything else is open space, except for the 2-row bleacher seats on the north wall and the bar on the south wall. Missing is an outdoor patio space for smokers. In its place is a 3-foot by 3-foot foyer to a side door, in which ten or so smokers stand like jail cellmates, pushing their lips to the gated doorway with each exhale. If this isn’t a college bar, I don’t know what is.
The 9-0 works well for a college bar; $5 for a beer, and $10 for mixed drinks is pretty reasonable in this town (I still think it’s a rip-off for college students). It’s loud, crowded, and exciting. And thank God for the ESPN.
As a college hangout, The 9-0 is a letdown. Where are the dartboards, shuffleboards, and outdoor patio for smokers and loungers? What about the college radio? How about famous Buffalo wings or fish tacos? Nope. Nothing. Though they serve food in the early evening hours, no one seems to go. I’ve never heard my friends say, “Hey, let’s go get some grub at The 9-0.” I can’t blame them. Who would want to eat in a big, empty black box?
Freshman year, everybody wishes they were at The 9-0. Sophomore year, everybody thinks it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread. By junior and senior year, you just accept it for what it is, knowing you’ve got nothing better to do anyway – might as well join some friends. But let me leave you with this…let’s just say El Pollo Loco lost its faithful local South L.A. fan base and went out of business. In its place, some USC alum that graduated from the business school in the ‘90s opens up a place with dartboards, shuffleboards, satellite TV, outdoor patio, college radio, and best of all…$10 pitchers of beer and $12 pitchers of margarita. Ask yourself this: “Just how long would the line be at The 9-0?”