Located on the corner of 29th Street and Hoover Avenue, the 2-9 Café sticks out like a sore thumb: It's a two-story Victorian style home among the surrounding apartment complexes and small houses.
Stranger than the style of house, though, is the crowd at the bar and restaurant: students, students and more students.
Garrin Morton, the general manager at the restaurant, would not have it any other way.
“We’re trying to make it where it’s fun,” Morton said. “We want to make this kind of an institution for the students.” And, with the surfboard mounted on an inside wall, and the televisions on the patio, and the USC football articles hanging above the urinals in the bathroom, it is pretty clear that Morton only has one crowd in mind: USC students.
Morton began managing the restaurant in September 2011. One of Morton’s friends from high school, who runs the Orange County restaurant chain T-K Burgers, purchased the café and made Morton the manager. Since then, he has done as much as possible to cater to the USC crowd.
The first thing he did? Lower beer prices to $2.69 a pint. He's confident the high number of beer-buyers will counterbalance the low price.
“As you can tell, the beer prices are priced to move for students,” Morton said. “When you have ten bucks, where are you going to go have a beer?”
The restaurant sells 12 different draft beers for that price, including Samuel Adams, Coors and Blue Moon; the menu includes a Frisco burger, salads and other appetizers. On any given day, the café gets around 150 customers, the majority of whom are USC students. Though there are several bars around USC, like the 901 or The Lab, Morton believes that the 2-9 has better staying power.
“I don’t think they can really be institutional places because they’re really located on the fringe, and they’re really trying to market themselves to a mass audience,” Morton said. “We’re just going for the students.”
In December, the restaurant shut down for three weeks to undergo construction geared toward making the place more appealing to students.
“It wasn’t really something the students could hang their hats on and go, ‘Hey, this place is really cool,” Morton said. He isn’t shy about the 2-9 being strictly student-oriented.
“I deal with a lot of people who are my age who come in here to eat. They’re all like, ‘Oh, you know, you should really have this on the menu,'” Morton laughed. “I’m like, ‘You know what, none of the students ever tell me this – what are you even doing here? You’re too old for this place.”
Eddie Kim, a senior at USC, says the 2-9 is "pretty well-known among students.”
“I'm not sure what more they could do to appeal more to SC students, aside from throwing out discounts," he said. "Considering the beer's always under three bucks, I'm happy.”
Every once in a while, he'll notice people who are likely not students. But it never really matters to him.
“It’s a diverse but cohesive crowd in there,” Kim explained. “I wouldn’t say anyone ever sticks out as being outside the USC community.”
While just a couple of blocks away from the university, the 2-9 Café's area is hardly comprised of solely Trojans. Lower-income families live in the area, as do people who work in the nearby, like Morton, who lives just down the street from his café.
Though geared towards students, there are neighborhood people who come in to eat or to grab a beer. Morton said there is, “no conflict” between students and people from the neighborhood that eat there.
“Every group that comes in here, they’re in their own world.” Morton explained. “The beer is the big bridge there.”
To further cater to the USC crowd, Morton is bringing back old-school style beer pong, complete with a paddle and ping-pong table. They are planning to paint the building gold to match its already cardinal awning. They will be giving away T-shirts during the summer as a promotion.
Morton even plans to “cross advertise” with T-K Burger locations in Orange County, as many students who attend the university are from that area. Though he accepts anyone at the 2-9 Café, it is clear he wants it to be for Trojans.
“We don’t want them coming here and saying, “Oh, that’s a nice little quaint café,’” Morton said with a smile. “We want them to come here and go, 'This is a college bar.’”