Three years ago, chef Adam Greenberg and his wife were sitting poolside—at a Honolulu hotel they discovered on Instagram—with frozen strawberry pina coladas in-hand. This was Greenberg’s happy place.
“We just sort of sat back: ‘How do we make people feel like this when they come to a restaurant?'”
His answer is Coconut Club, an island-themed restaurant that opens near Union Market today with a “Coachella-ish” playlist, cocktails served in disco balls, and a menu built around the idea that everything tastes better when you’re on vacation. It’s also all made for Instagram.
The centerpiece is a huge mural of pink and green tropical plants from local artist Meg Biram, but hanging swing chairs will no doubt also be a social media hotspot. Greenberg, who boasts five wins on Chopped and Beat Bobby Flay, has created colorful dishes and drinks with photos in mind. The menu itself features emojis for different sections and the Instagram handles of purveyors.
And just in case your phone is running low from uploading all those pics, Coconut Club helpfully offers USB plugs along the bar. The bathrooms also have shelves to put your cell phone. “We tried to think how can we be the iPhone of restaurants? It’s just being user friendly,” Greenberg says.
The island-inspired food isn’t always geographically specific, but it does take a lot of inspiration from Hawaii. In fact, Greenberg initially intended to open a quick-service poke shop. Now, you’ll find only a classic tuna and ora king salmon poke—without all the crazy toppings. Greenberg will also fly in two types of fish in daily from Honolulu Fish Company in Hawaii for rotating specials, such as a walu crudo or ahi tuna served simply with 18-month aged soy sauce. Less fresh is an entire section of the menu devoted exclusively to another Hawaiian culinary staple: Spam. The canned meat makes appearances in a patty melt, fried rice, and a clam dish with kimchi butter. It’s even infused, along with coconut, into a bourbon old-fashioned.
Other small plates focus mainly on grains and vegetables. A fresh heart of palm stalk is carved out to look like a bone marrow—but filled with avocado puree and garnished with blood orange. Big plates for at least two people (and all under $30) include a whole grilled fish with pickled peppers and Kalua pork that’s marinated for two days then smoked in banana leaf.
A soft-serve sundae for dessert is also meant to be shared. Currently, it’s comprised of coconut and pineapple ice cream loaded with garnishes and served in a plastic coconut. “Super Instagrammable,” Greenberg says.
The cocktail menu is equally tropical—and photographable—but Greenberg notes it’s not tiki. Bar manager Dave Lanzalone, previously of Hank’s Oyster Bar, combines Chartreuse and rum with strawberry and lime for one frozen drink served in a pink glass. He’s also making large format cocktails like a rye-matcha colada called “Waking Up From a Disco Nap” served in a mini-disco ball.
“It’s excessively Instagrammable here. We just turned the fun notch up to 12. We’re not taking ourselves seriously,” Lanzalone says. “It’s what you drink when you’re on vacation, because this place is supposed to feel like you’re on vacation.”
If, however, you’re the kind of vacationer who prefers a good old post-card over a social media blast, Coconut Club has some old-school touches too. Greenberg had postcards designed with photos he took from a drone in Hawaii and LA. When you’re done with your meal, you can fill one out, and the restaurant will mail it for you.
“It’s just kind of a ‘wish you were here’ kind of thing,” he says.
Coconut Club. 540 Penn St., NE.