An evening at the Coconut Club — a tiki-inspired pop-up event that takes place at various venues around Los Angeles — will most likely begin with Nathan Hazard. The bearded and bespectacled barman greets guests from behind a table decked with glassware. With an intimate crowd gathered around, Hazard fills each glass with blue punch — a witches' brew of butterfly pea blossom tea, gin and simple syrup. When he adds falernum, bitters and lime juice, the glowing azure morphs to an electric violet. And so the show begins.
As co-founder and cocktail impresario of the Coconut Club, Hazard takes his liquor pretty seriously. His apartment brims with bottles of booze — he has a penchant for gin, rum and amaro especially — and when he's not experimenting with them at home, he's likely out hunting for obscure labels in odd corners of the Southland, including Jons Marketplaces and Chinese markets in the San Gabriel Valley. And his “collector brain” isn't just fixated on liquor. Tiki mugs, antique wine openers and punch bowls are among other bric-a-brac in his Highland Park place.
“We want to be who you go to for not-your-average event. And the cocktail is my canvas.” —Nathan Hazard
Hazard says that collecting runs in the family, as does artistic flair. A native of Tucson, Arizona, Hazard's own creative eye was influenced by his mother, who was a curator at a gallery, a skilled quilter and a natural at any artistic endeavor she set her mind to. After Hazard left home for college in Oregon, his parents put their talents to use in an unexpectedly quirky way: They started planning annual summer tiki parties by their pool. The stories were enough to draw Hazard back for the shindig, where he fell into the role of bartender.
“My first year [at the party], it was cliché stuff: a blue Hawaiian, a mojito, the Trader Vic's mai tai,” he said. “But each year I got a little deeper, a little more into the history. I started reading books on tiki and made drinks like the Polynesian Paralysis and a chi chi. Then I moved to L.A. and realized I was sitting on a wealth of information, since this is where tiki really started.”
Though postcollege music video projects with friends are what initially brought Hazard to L.A. — he ended up working in A&R for many years as his day job — he also kept up other side endeavors, including a food blog and The Table Set, a podcast about creative and thematic entertaining. In 2014, Andy Windak (also of The Table Set) and Darren Herczeg joined forces with Hazard to debut the Coconut Club.
The success of the pop-up has opened other doors for Hazard, including a consulting role at Pedro Mandinga Rum Bar in Panama City's Casco Viejo district. Closer to home, his biggest endeavor yet is on the horizon. In May, he launches Drink Special, a private event company, which he'll run with friend and Coconut Club colleague Malina Bickford. The project, which debuts at ETA in Highland Park, will have few boundaries, he says. Bompas & Parr, a British design agency known for multisensory culinary experiences such as a walk-in alcoholic cloud bar, is one source of inspiration.
Hazard has first-hand experience with such events, having creatively managed a number of private parties over the years. One was actor T.J. Miller's wedding afterparty in Denver. For this, he and Windak worked together on a surrealist theme complete with drinks in Magritte-inspired green apples; a wall of tiny doors with edible surprises behind them, à la the rabbit hole in Alice in Wonderland; and pistols that shot out a rose-flavored whiskey cocktail.
He chuckles as he paints a picture of a dance floor full of people firing liquor into one another's mouths. “That's the kind of over-the top creative stuff Malina and I want to do,” Hazard said. “We want to be who you go to for not-your-average event. And the cocktail is my canvas.”