Photography by Nicole Azer on 35mm - @nicoleazer

Deral Boykin: King of Brunch

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“Jamie Foxx had just finished the movie with Tom Cruise. Low and behold, we’re doing this party, and Tom Cruise comes in through the back and actually sits down next to me. . .”

It’s impossible for me to think about nightlife in Los Angeles without thinking of Deral Boykin. Quite simply, he’s the man to know. If you enjoy the hip hop crowd and a DJ who plays everything from 90s rap to new-age trap, if you’re buying bottle packages that include both top shelf liquor and champagne just for spraying, if you want a parade of Hollywood’s hottest bottle girls to deliver to your table in cheeky spandex, if you’re dying to see your favorite musician or celebrity in a candid intoxicated moment, if you want to leave the club knowing you’ve just had the time of your life, Deral has – hands down, no question – the party for you. And he’s been running this particular scene for roughly two decades, seamlessly clinging to the top spot despite the shifting landscape. 

I first met Deral at his birthday party in the Hollywood hills. It was Fall of 2012, and I was addicted to wearing headbands across the middle of my forehead. My friends and I gathered on North Highland Ave to catch the shuttle, and we eyed the other stunning girl groups who donned cotton bell bottoms and crop tops, chic swim attire, or sundresses. It was only my third (or so) party in the hills, and I was giddy as we wove through the curving streets and up into the undulating landscape. The house was vision-board-worthy with marble floors, an elevator for its multiple levels, a vast pool area stretching out the back with several enclosed gazebos, and endless views of the sprawling city. Searching for a drink, I made my way through gaming tables set up for blackjack or poker and a large buffet covered in food, all the while scanning the handsome crowd, taking in all the beautiful skin left exposed in before-it-gets-too-cold outfits on the warm, September day. Of course, there were a few familiar faces, and I worked diligently to avert my stares, respecting the artists and actors who seemed to have burst through TV screens and into my real life. I marveled at the quantity of attractive people aggregated in one area, the customization of the house to fit all our young-and-ready needs, and the overall energy that sprung from the speakers and coated each of us with mischief and desire. When it came to LA’s hip hop crowd, this was the finest. . . by far. 

Though that day was nearly ten years ago, Deral still looks exactly the same: striking, with a soft smile and perfectly groomed beard, donning his typical hat and designer sneakers. He operates the same too: a cool, friendly demeanor on top of his assertive professionalism, a mix of hustle and have-fun. Chatting with him on the patio at Station 1640 – home of his new nightlife venture, Taco Tuesday – it seems perfectly clear why he has sustained his success in this industry; he truly wants to curate a good time and does so with a keen business mind. . . not to mention, he knows everyone. A professional football player out of Kent, Ohio, his time as an athlete helped him acquire a lot of great contacts. After retiring, he began working in the music industry, adding to his already-elite roster. But his passion for nightlife and his ability to execute on his ideas paved the way for what would eventually be perhaps the most persistent party run in LA history. Starting with a music industry event called First Sunday’s, Deral’s parties quickly gained popularity through word of mouth. His ‘break out hit’ was Toxic, a day party that ran every Sunday throughout summer. The star-studded crowd, the flowing drinks, and the fleeting feeling of a summer-only event had the city utterly captivated and lining up literally around the corner of Ivar on Sunday every single weekend. 

Courtesy of Lollipop Brunch Party

Now, I went to Toxic, and yes, I went every Sunday for as long as I could. Toxic was LA’s hottest nightclub. . . just during the day. That’s when I really knew I’d be following Deral anywhere he directed me. With outdoor bottle service tables, women clad in daisy dukes and cute co-ords, and multiple bars and VIP sections, I was instantly hooked. I wanted a place to wear all my floral sundresses (okay, I wasn’t really in with the fashion of the times, but whatever I was doing was working for me) and let my bronzer sparkle in the sun. It felt good to get a buzz on during daylight and flirt while it was bright enough for real eye contact. It didn’t hurt that regulars included Christina Milian, Karrueche Tran, and JaVelle McGee. Summer was a time for freedom and fun, and it seemed like everyone found it at Toxic, dropping their pretenses as tequila melted against ice and day dissolved into dusk. 

But, as with most supremely trendy clubs, Toxic came to and end in the changing landscape – that’s simply the cycle of a city like LA. Deral, however, was here to stay. He hit timelines and incepted text threads with a new party called Penthouse Day Club that had a remarkable six-year run, only interrupted by the pandemic. Aside from every influencer that ever tried to influence, images from PHD include model Winnie Harlow; artists Trey Songz, Chris Brown, Saweetie, Wiz Kalifa, Meek Mill, Nipsey Hussle, and many more (I really could go on and on, but you get the gist); comedian Kevin Hart; and athletes James Harden and Nick Young. Lollipop Brunch Party, which will return for the Summer of 2022 – and likely every Summer thereafter – is the next generation of Penthouse, transformed to re-tantalize. 

While wordy descriptions and heavy name drops may have you itching to attend, there is nothing quite like the experience itself. You can step into Deral’s world now at Brunch is Bae or on Tuesday evenings for what is definitely more party than taco tasting. And we can countdown to summer together, in preparation for the seasonal festivities which give enough gusto to last all year. 

There’s really just something special about the man behind the curtain; no one understands the panorama of LA’s club scene quite like Deral. Station 1640 is quiet before 5 on a Wednesday, save the band doing soundcheck inside. Sitting on the red pleather couch of a would-be bottle service table, we chatted like old times (just . . . a little more sober). Deral dished it all: from how nightlife has evolved over the years, to best restaurants, to COVID recovery, to the most iconic Hollywood stories. He even gave advice to beginners in the nightlife industry trying to make a name as quintessential as his own.

Courtesy of Penthouse Dayclub LA

How did you get started in LA nightlife? 

Initially, I did the internship at Quest records, which is Quincy Jones’ Label, with a guy named Jay Brown. Jay Brown is now the president of Roc Nation. So he plugged me in with a lot of industry people. I thought I wanted to do AR possibly, but we ended up doing a couple of events during that time, and then I liked it! So I created something called First Sundays, so every first Sunday of the month I would do a music industry party – I’m a former athlete so I knew the athletes as well so that just sort of mixed in.

Can you rattle off a list of places you’ve worked and parties you’ve thrown over the years?

I started at Bar One, which was so long ago, I did the Hardrock Café at Universal Studios, then I got into my day party phase. I started doing Toxic Day Party with LA’s Finest and that was my first experience, and that was the hottest part of the city. After that, I started Penthouse with my partner, and that was a six-year run. My day parties started with Toxic, then Penthouse, and now Lollipop, which is a brunch I created last year. And now we’re ending the year with Brunch is Bae; it’s a real brunch party, and it’s only on the patio of Station 1640. It’s a real vibe where people sing along and it’s more about eating as opposed to just partying. 

What has been your favorite party?

Probably First Sundays because it started out as a music industry event; everyone really waited for the first Sunday of the month to come out for that party. It grew within like two months to be like 600/700 people. There were actors, so from Taye Diggs to Shemar Moore to Jamie Foxx and all those guys, to the athletes like Shaquille O’Neal and all those guys. It grew really, really fast. It was my first really big party, but that was probably still my favorite.

There were actors, so from Taye Diggs to Shemar Moore to Jamie Foxx and all those guys, to the athletes like Shaquille O’Neal. . .

Let’s talk about closures and openings why do these cycles happen in nightlife? 

First of all, things are so trendy in LA, so a lot of clubs change quickly. A lot of clubs that used to be really good are no longer in existence. The thing that’s great about doing a day party is that it’s a summer party. So you go from March till September, but then people get off all winter and they look forward to getting back into it because it’s been shut down for four of five months. It creates hype. It’s so much fun during the time, and it’s summertime which is the best time to party anyway. When you stop people from doing that for a while and you hype it up on the way back in, the enthusiasm starts all over again. Those are my favorite parties to do simply because they last longer and they are the most fun. I mean you’re in bed by 9 o’clock.

Why do you think you’ve been able to stay in a number 1 spot despite a shifting scene?

It’s crazy because I’ve always been able to keep a pulse on what’s what works, so when I put together Lollipop, for example, a had new vision far in advance.  I planned everything in advance. I had a whole year to really think about how many to do it, where I wanted to do it, how I wanted it to flow, how many DJs I wanted to have, who I wanted to work with. I handpick who I wanna work with; some people last, some people don’t. I’m always replacing them with new people which means new blood, and then it continues. The partnerships in the nightlife industry are just like relationships; it doesn’t mean it’s a lifetime, necessarily. You work with who works with you. So essentially I’ve been able to pick the right people, and through my relationships, I know everybody. There’s always new blood to find, and it almost always automatically comes to me. Like every time I partner with somebody, it’s been because they’ve come to me, and I’ve been like: let me examine this situation, what this person does, and what they can add to it, and it ends up working out. I’ve just been blessed in that way. 

Let’s chat guest list – you always have a star-studded crowd. What can you spill?

I don’t really wanna be a snitch about what goes on. But I mean anyone and everyone has at least been to one of my events. Over course of last 20 years I’ve been in this business, so we’ve gone from the Taye Diggs, Morris Chestnut, and Jamie Foxx type people to the Trey Songz and the new blood people. It’s crazy that I’ve been around this long and still be successful with the younger generation. That’s also because I feel like I give off young energy, and the people in my circle are also young.

Do you think the celebrity appearances are a main draw of your events? 

I’ve got a gift of marketing my stuff. Honestly, a lot of people have these great long lists of bottle clients or celebrities. I don’t have any of that: a specific list. I have people who hit me or have heard of me or heard of my events, and they contact me. So any week it could be anybody new in attendance that heard about the event through someone, or it could be a six degrees of separation scenario. That’s my life. Everyone is attached to me in someway; I always get that type of thing. I’m always sold out, bottle service-wise. I’m always sold out and it’s not because I have a specific list, it’s that I create the vibe. I know women are the base of that. I know a lot of beautiful women; I’ve always known a lot of beautiful women, and I’ve always known that was the basis of having a successful event. You create a beautiful environment, and the people will come.

Let’s talk parties in the Hills – how did you get into that and where did it take you? 

Honestly that was like a rebirth of me in nightlife. I got out of the industry for like five or six years, instead doing real estate back in the mid-2000s. I was very successful, but lost everything in the crash. I’d gotten out of the nightlife, and nightlife had a shifted. A lot of my contacts had moved on to do other things. So that particular party in the hills where you and I [Deral and Clea] met was through a friend named Joe Lucket. He had a connection with the house, he wanted to do a charity event, and I knew Mehki Phifer. Now Mehki used to do poker games, so I had him host it. We had a whole casino charity night mixed in with my birthday, Joe had the house, and that was kind of the rebirth of me back into nightlife. I met a lot of people who were promoting at the time, and I started promoting at Play House because of that particular party. So that was my way back into nightlife after losing everything in real estate.

Photography by Nicole Azer

2020 obviously put a big damper on the club scene. What was the year like for you? 

2020 was on and off, obviously, because one week we could open, one week we couldn’t open. It had to be a patio, or it had to be 6 feet apart. I was able to navigate that through different venues that had outdoor space. That was when I created Lollipop. I was able to do some one-off parties with Lollipop. I was really the only party in town at the time, so everybody wanted to come. I was able to do like two or three of those early in the spring of 2020, and we came back at the end of 2020 in October and then they shut down in December. But I was able to do a good run of parties. We went crazy. We followed the rules, but it was still the only game in town, so it was wild. I had a plan coming into 2021 to be ready to kick off in March when they let us come back. 2020 was tough; I didn’t make as much money, but I didn’t spend as much money. I spent a lot of time reading, getting to know myself spiritually, so that kind of put me in a mental state where I didn’t feel the negative effects of the year. I was grateful coming out of 2020 and having the opportunities I had at the top of 2021.

If anyone knows the nightlife landscape in LA it’s you. So how has 2020 changed the scene?

For me, I created a taco Tuesday night which is a really big party. I mean, some people eat tacos, but it’s really just a wild party. It’s not necessarily as high-end as it was before. With fewer people coming out, you can’t be as selective with who gets in. For Lollipop in the summer, with so many people coming to attend – I mean we’re sold out weeks in advance, I’m able to be a lot more selective. Regular nights may not be as high caliber as far as attractiveness, but maybe there’s a little less posing and a little bit more getting crazy. The world is just way wilder now!

So what does a night off look like for you?

If it’s not my party and I’m not getting paid, I don’t even go to clubs in LA. When I go out of town and I travel, I go out because it’s different. For me. . .I like a nice meal; I’m more into restaurants now. That’s pretty much it. Otherwise I sleep!

And what are your favorite restaurants in LA?

Boa, Geoffrey’s in Malibu, and Bossa Nova. Food wise, those three places. Obviously Mastros is in there and Nobu I love, but if it’s not the Malibu one. . .  it’s not the same vibe. Geoffrey’s is my favorite lunch spot to go to. Boa never fails. And the simple one to me is Bossa Nova, there’s just so many good things on that menu.

I know you’re hopping a flight out of LA tomorrow – where are you headed, and where are some of your favorite places to travel?

I’m going to Dallas tomorrow. Dallas has become probably my favorite city in the states. I mean I love Chicago, but Dallas kind of gives me everything that I want outside of LA except for the weather. It’s my favorite city both to eat and hang out in. The people are amazing, super friendly – it’s the south. That’s my favorite city right now, but I’ve traveled so much in the last month. Last year I did my birthday in Miami. This year my birthday was Scottsdale, Dallas, Miami, Cabo. I do that every September through October. It was my first time going to Cabo; I’ve been to Tulum, I’ve been to Cancun, I’ve been to Puerto Vallarta, I’ve been to a lot of places, but Cabo was super dope. The restaurant I went to was in a Cliff. . . built into a cliff but on the ocean, so you’re in between the cliff within the mountain and the ocean. It was amazing!

I’ve know you for a while, and I know you’re always thinking about other, sustainable ventures outside of events. What do you have going on right now?

I’ve been fortunate enough to be at a point now where I’m able to have ownership in a club on top of doing my weekly events. I started a Hookah company [The Hookah Guys LA] which automatically fits into me doing weekly events and club ownership, so I have an automatic locations to place my hookahs. Everything is kind of connected. 2020 was the year were a lot of people in the industry were like ‘this sucks.’ I didn’t make as much money in 2020, but I didn’t spend as much money. . . as I mentioned. Mentally I gained a lot. I planned everything out, and 2021 has been amazing from the very beginning. 

What’s next for you with work and life? 

I told myself at the beginning of 2021 that I was going to work through the summer and see if I could meet my financial goals, travel for my birthday for a month and a half, and then go into phase 2 – which is, investing in real estate and looking at other opportunities for The Hookah Guys LA and other things outside of that. My next step is to buy a property or two with my family; so I may do something with my niece and something with my daughter. You know, setting up intergenerational wealth, leave something back for my family.

Photography by Nicole Azer

What advice do you have for new people entering the nightlife business? 

People often think that because they know a lot of people, they can automatically be a good promoter. Not the case. . . especially when you’re doing weekly stuff. In my opinion, the best route would be to work for a company or someone who’s already made it at hot clubs, build your own brand within those situations, start a once a month or a one-off situation (small one-off parties and you build it to the point where you’ve gained your following in that way), and then that will lead to being able to do the bigger events. When I got out the business and had to start all over, I had to work for people, it was humbling. But I had to have humility and see the bigger picture. A lot of people want to be a star right away, but you have to pay your dues. It’s just like any other business. You pay your dues, but on the low you’re building to the next phase. And. . . save your money. 2021 has probably been the best year I’ve had (outside of my first year in real estate) financially. Now I’m in a place where I can put money away for investing, and have nothing to complain about. But one thing I learned about having everything and losing everything is, you can never get complacent. You have to keep the hustle going and it has to be multiple revenue streams. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. 

To close us out, can you share your most iconic Hollywood nightlife story? 

I have two. Two totally different generations. So obviously I know and have known a lot of the top celebrities. But there were two moments that put me in a situation where I was sort of star struck. I did a party on Sunset with my old partner Dave Brown who is friends with Jamie Foxx. Jamie had just finished the movie with Tom Cruise. Low and behold, we’re doing this party and Tom Cruise comes through the back and actually sits down next to me. To me, that was a major moment; Tom Cruise was a major star, and a white star at the black club. So it’s all black people, mostly, and he just comes in and sits down next to me and we’re just all hanging out. That felt like some different level shit. He was listening to hip hop, just chillin’ like a regular person. 

The second one is actually connected to him. So the glass house, you remember it [referring to a stunning mansion in the Hollywood hills made almost entirely of glass], we would do parties there. It was a production company house, but we would do parties there and we’d become close with the owners. So at probably 2 o’clock in the morning, this promoter calls me and he’s like “Yo, do you have access to the glasshouse?” I said I did. And he says, “I have the Jonas Brothers and Connor Cruise and 18 cheerleaders.” So, it was Joe Jonas and Connor Cruise and 18 San Diego Chargers Cheerleaders. There were four of us guys (the son of the owners of the house, myself, and the two boys) with 18 girls in the pool at like 2 in the morning. So that was another moment. The girls are wingin’ it with bathing suits, they didn’t plan on swimming. It wasn’t a naked free for all situation, but it was just a moment of a super random 2 o’clock in the morning party in Beverly Hills overlooking the whole city in one of the dopest houses in LA.

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