Fortune Sound Club's nightlife veterans keep it eclectic
The owners of just about every nightclub in this world are rapacious capitalists who don’t care a lick about music, men who calculate the worth of a song by how much booze gets sold while it’s playing. Any city worth visiting, though, has at least one cabaret that music aficionados can call home, a place that caters to clubgoers looking for more than a bleary-eyed hook-up or a cocaine-fuelled brawl. In Vancouver, that place is called Fortune Sound Club, the two-year-old brainchild of Garret Louie and Rob Rizk.
Best known to nightlife veterans as G-Man and Rizk, the Vancouver natives ran the city’s best and longest-running hip-hop nights from 1998 to 2009. Over that span, they witnessed rap’s emergence from the margins to the centre of the wider culture, their success culminating with Big Up Saturdays, a wildly popular weekly that filled the 1,200-plus capacity Gossip nightclub every weekend for five years running.
Having conquered the mainstream market as promoters, Rizk and Louie were faced with two options: retire as champions, or step up to the heavyweight division. Lounging on a black-leather chesterfield in the artists’ green room at their Chinatown club, the business partners look back on their decision with no regrets.
“When we were offered a chance at the cabaret license,” says Rizk, “it was an opportunity we couldn’t let pass by.”
The license was attached to a third-floor space at 147 East Pender Street, a karaoke bar-turned-hipster dive that hosted several memorable indie-dance nights in the middle part of the 2000s. At first, Rizk and Louie considered moving the license to a venue downtown, but finally decided to stay in Chinatown, a daring decision in a marketplace dominated by the Granville Strip.
“There’s no walk-by traffic here,” says Louie. “When we started, you’d find guys shooting up in an alley around the corner. It wasn’t a place many people came to at night. But in hindsight, we know we made the right decision.”
For anyone wanting to escape the masses, Fortune’s out-of-the-way location is a lure in itself, providing adventurous types with an experience in one of Vancouver’s most fascinating neighbourhoods. On any given evening, you can find several clubgoers dining at one of Chinatown’s many restaurants before heading over to the venue for a show. Once inside, patrons are treated to the city’s most immersive sound system, custom-designed for the cool price of $200,000.
“When I first told Garret how much it would cost, he couldn’t believe it,” recalls Rizk with a laugh. “But I told him that I wouldn’t do this project unless we got that system. Sound is how we set ourselves apart. Without it, we’d be just like any other club in the city.”
It’s not just the speakers that set Fortune apart: it’s what comes out of them, a wickedly eclectic mix that runs the gamut from house to hip-hop to hardcore punk. By shunning commercial hits, say the club owners, they’ve been able to draw in the kind of energetic regulars whose most violent urge is dancing too hard.
“If you do quality music,” says Rizk, “you get a quality crowd.”
“Our angle has always been to play what we want to play,” adds in Louie. “We’ve stuck to our guns. If anybody comes through and enjoys this more non-commercial music, we might be able to educate them a little. If you don’t like it, and you want to hear radio hits, then you can go to Granville Street.”
Fortune’s commitment to underground styles is perfectly aligned with music consumption in the iPod age, where eclecticism trumps genre purism as the ultimate badge of cosmopolitan hipness. When Louie notes that his favourite shows at Fortune include appearances by reggae legend Barrington Levy, hardcore heroes Fucked Up, and the rapper Wiz Khalifa, there’s no sense that he’s straining to cover his generic bases. It’s just the way he and so many others listen to music these days.
That’s the vibe coursing through the club’s Friday and Saturday lineups, each of which reflects the promoters’ personal styles. Louie’s Happy Ending Fridays is Fortune’s flagship night, drawing a young crowd with its up-to-the-second mix of everything that’s cool. Rizk’s Experience Saturdays, meanwhile, taps into Vancouver’s long-standing love affair with soulful dance music, ranging from house’s steady thump to the wild polyrhythms of Afrobeat and ’70s funk.
Splitting the weekend has nurtured a healthy sense of competition among these long-time friends, who’ve achieved the autonomy every promoter dreams about.
“The best thing about this is it’s our own club,” says Louie, “so we can do whatever the fuck we want.”
For all the wild concerts and celebrity sightings—including much-tweeted visits by Jay-Z, Drake, and members of the Clash—Rizk and Louie are quick to point out that their greatest satisfaction comes from simply working with their friendly staff, a tight-knit crew that’s had relatively little turnover in the past two years. No matter how sleek the club’s sound system and décor, Fortune’s secret weapon might just be its corniest—they kill you with kindness.