From creeky warehouses to raucous bars to swanky boîtes and back again, Stephen Hauptfuhr has bash-ed ’em all. The 33-year-old L.A. native isn’t your average chatty, social-butterfly-type party planner, and he comes off supermellow, even a bit shy, but beneath the soft-spoken exterior there’s a creative spark and knack for getting people together that’s been flickering for almost two decades. Just into his teens in the early ’90s, “Mr. Kool-Aid,” as he called himself, was a hot electronic-music DJ and promoter helping put on some of L.A.’s biggest dance-music events, many at unconventional locales like water parks and shopping malls. Though he continued to throw random parties here and there after the undergound scene petered out (“The ‘rave’ label and the attention that came with it signaled its downfall,” he says), it wasn’t until 2000 when he created Radio — an electro-meets-rock night that packed Star Shoes on Wednesdays — that he was again a nightlife force. Arguably, that club was the impetus for what is now known, for better or worse, as “the Hollywood hipster” scene, the shaggy mama that bore Cobrasnake and his messy minions and made it okay for rockers to dance.
But Radio always sought to be more than that, and Hauptfuhr’s arty aesthetic pushed the limits of clubdom, offering offbeat stuff like “Skinny Boy Burlesque” shows and a Carrie prom night complete with buckets of fake blood that they’re probably still scrubbing out of the counter’s crevices. He ended the weekly last year, and moved on to doing events at upscale venues like Citizen Smith and even a few corporate shindigs. But it’s in the unvarnished surroundings of downtown that Haupfuhr still feels most at home. In addition to his involvement with filmmaker Burke Roberts’ mobile theater called The Engine, he was a major player in the recent run of Smashbox-alternative L.A. Fashion Week shows that glitzed up the Los Angeles Theatre, and he’s thrown some raging bashes in Chinatown at the Mountain Bar. Lately, he’s returned to downtown’s warehouses where he got his start, throwing the monthly, invite-only Tik Tok parties, featuring DJs, art installations and a return to the “underground” feel (promotion is kept very low-pro). “In a club it’s the same four walls every time,” he says. “But in a warehouse you can make your own environment and make it different every time.” And what does he think about downtown evolving as a nightlife and residential mecca? “I welcome change,” says the longtime loft dweller, who in fact is working with City Council in the events arena. “If you don’t change, you don’t grow. Plus, I’d rather be part of it than let it turn into another Hollywood and Highland.”