Everything about the design of the Coconut Club, the island vacation spot that opens tonight in a wide-open warehouse near Union Market, is unabashedly for the ‘Gram.
An expansive mural of leaves and fronds painted in blues, teals, and pinks resides on a wall studded with three outlets for people to charge their phones or computers. There are more chargers outside of the bathrooms, one of which has “Vibes” stenciled in large print on the mirror to add a flourish for selfies. Some of the cheeky tropical drinks from the floating bar anchored in the center of the restaurant will come in disco balls and fake pineapples.
Chef and owner Adam Greenberg wants Coconut Club to be a place where people can’t stop snapping photos because they’re having so much fun. He worked with Edit Lab architects on the interior and brought in Design Army for the logo and facade. Greenberg understands that social media is as much about connecting with people as posturing — he found the artist for the mural, Meg Biram, on Instagram, and lists handles for several of his purveyors on the menu.
The chef also has the culinary chops to pad all that style with plenty of substance. He rose through the ranks of the Barteca restaurant group, eventually becoming executive chef of the Barcelona on 14th Street NW. He’s also proven himself in a gantlet of Food Network challenges, winning Chopped four times and taking down the host of Beat Bobby Flay.
Greenberg’s chef de cuisine at Coconut Club, Bethesda native Kyle Henderson, last worked underJames Beard Award semifinalist Ben Sukle at Oberlin in Providence, Rhode Island.
The idea for Coconut Club came when Greenberg was on a Hawaiian vacation with his wife, sipping a frozen Miami Vice cocktail by the pool. He wanted to figure out a way to give people the same feeling in a cold-weather city.
Staying true to his tapas roots, Greenberg built a menu of shareable plates around the foundation of lighter dishes suitable for the beach. Menus will be printed daily to reflect tweaks based on seasonality, including serving a small selection of fish flown in overnight from Hawaii.
The opening menu has two types of poke — tuna and ora king salmon — along with sections for meats (think pork and pineapple or teriyaki short ribs) and a diverse vegetarian section. Greenberg says he thinks his salt-baked sweet potato, served with hot honey, goji berries, and a puffed grain mixture of quinoa, farro, and jasmine rice, is a “real sleeper.”
“We’re not Hawaiian,” Greenberg says. “We’re not Californian, we’re not anywhere, really. It’s really about [being] transformative. How do you get someone to go to the beach? For me the restaurant’s about fun.”
That’s why there’s a Spam section that includes a “Danny’s clams” dish (littlenecks, kimchi butter) he lifted with permission from Chiko’s Danny Lee.
Coconut Club food menu by on Scribd
Greenberg found bar manager Dave Lanzalone, formerly of Hank’s Oyster Bar, through the D.C. Craft Bartenders Guild. Lanzalone has designed a cheeky lineup of cocktails to follow the carefree mood. Greenberg calls the Yas Queen’s Park Swizzle — made with Cotton and Reed mango rum, coconut water syrup, lime, mint, and allspice dram — refreshing and “crushable.”
There won’t be a pina colada, Greenberg says, because he doesn’t want to compete with Cotton and Reed. He’d rather support his neighbor and point people in that direction if that’s what they want.
Coconut Club drink menu by on Scribd
All the irreverence is meant to make people laugh and enjoy themselves. Greenberg doesn’t care about gunning for awards or making a serious statement for his food. He doesn’t want the restaurant to be authentic to any culture. He just wants it to represent his idea of a good time, which is why he’s overseeing the hip-hop heavy playlist, too.
“If I can say one thing, it’s that it’s authentically me,” Greenberg says. “... When I started cooking when I was 18 — I’m 39 now — I said if I could ever have a kitchen and have music I’d be happy. And now I have exactly what I want.”
Coconut Club at 540 Penn St. NE is open for dinner only for now, starting out with service Tuesday through Saturday.