Zark Fatah Changed the Landscape of Toronto Nightlife.
Mar 08, 2007 04:30 AM
Bill Taylor for the http://www.star.com/
What does it take to dress a hip workaholic?
Calvin Klein underwear and socks; Paper Denim jeans; Armani cotton sweater; Cesare Paciotti shoes; Gucci blazer in deep-purple suede; Chrome Hearts ring; Armani silver-and-leather ring; Cartier watch.
"I like nice things," says Zark Fatah. He sits on a banquette at Atelier, the club/lounge he opened on King St. W. in December and shrugs off the scoffers who say the place is too exclusive to survive. They're mostly people who weren't invited to join. Membership is free – drinks are anything but – and limited to 250.
Once enough of them have had their thumbs scanned into a computer, the biometric reader at the entrance will be activated, doing away with the need for a doorman or membership cards.
"It isn't all that exclusive," says Fatah. "You just have to know someone who can bring you in. Once you're past the door, this is a very friendly place."
At 32, he's a man who has lived the illusion, seen through it to the hard-nosed reality beneath but still enjoys the mirage. He has a foot in each pool; one dabbling its toes in the shallow ever-shifting waters that nourish his beloved "pretty people"; the other thigh-deep in the clinging mud of time and effort that it takes to fuel the fantasy. He calls it an industry and talks (without regret) of the 14-hour days and seven-day weeks it can demand.
That's after he rushes to the interview explaining that he was late getting away from a meeting. Afterward, he dashes off again, already on his cellphone apologizing to the people waiting at his next meeting.
"Everything I have, I worked for; went out and got for myself," he says. "Everything I know, I've learned by doing it."
Ten years ago, he was a bartender at clubs like Fluid and the Guvernment. Today, Zark Inc. spearheads six businesses. He's on everyone's most-eligible and best-dressed lists (including the Star's last year), his name a byword for all that is hot, happening and ... now. His Porsche is parked outside and the closets in his penthouse loft are overflowing with high fashion. But he's not, he insists, a millionaire. "Yet."Fatah's background is working-class Scarborough. His father, a courier, is a Muslim born in Bombay and raised in Pakistan; his mother, a secretary, is an Anglo-Indian Christian.
"My upbringing was definitely not the conventional East Indian type," he says. "My younger brother Tarus and I were born here and our parents wanted us grow up as Canadians. They didn't push the religion, the culture or the language at us."
Four of his five other businesses are on or near King St. W. – the Century Room nightclub, restaurants Blowfish and Doku 15 and the Hammam spa. Prototype Design Lab, "a design-and-build company" in Mississauga, has produced a lot of the fixtures and fittings for the other places, including Atelier's metal tables with leaf-shaped cut-outs. He's a high-school dropout who's worked as a burger flipper, gas-station attendant and telemarketer. At 18, he had his first taste of "the nightlife industry" as a dancer at clubs and in the background of music videos.
His life changed forever, he says, when he flew to Miami for a few days one New Year's.
"I never came back. I spent two winter seasons bartending there. I was exposed to the best of the best. A nice little glimpse of the rest of the world. Superficial, maybe, but still ... a lifestyle I'd never seen. Cars, boats, condos, fashion, the women. Seeing all that set my aspirations high. Moving back to Toronto in 1999, I was on the cusp of turning 25. I was concerned that I would wake up one day and be a 30-year-old bartender."
Fatah got into event promotion.
"I'm a creative guy and a very social person. It was an easy translation. The glamour and allure pulled me in but I was always in it far more for the business than the nightclubbing. It's not about getting up at 1 in the afternoon hungover.
"I don't enjoy dating all that much. My daily life is, `Hi, how are you? What are you doing?' I call it the interview. I don't want to do that on my night off. So I'm very single at the moment. But I definitely want to marry and have children."
He has business partners but Fatah is the very visible and photogenic tip of the iceberg. Still, he says, "I try to stay as real and grounded as possible. I take a personal approach to everything. I'm hands-on. On a typical night I'll drop into Doku and then Blowfish; grab some food and chat with the customers; then into Atelier for a while and wind up at Century."
Home is the Broadview Lofts off Queen St. E., self-billed as "eclectic living and up-and-coming cool." Fatah's heart remains west of Yonge St. but he's not sorry he moved from the Icon condos a short walk from his work.
"I like that separation. Of being somewhere where there are parks and kids and dogs and I don't have to worry about bumping into my intoxicated clientele in the lobby."
This year, he vowed, would be the one that saw him taking on no new projects. But he and Mayor David Miller met recently to discuss Fatah's suggestions "about how Toronto could be marketed in a different way to a specific demographic – 25- to 35-year-old jetsetters; lifestyle-oriented people who travel to Miami, New York, London, L.A., Paris – they're aware of what's going on around the world. The tastemakers, the trendsetters, the ones who decide what's cool and what's not.
"When they come to Toronto, they're totally surprised and impressed. The nightlife – every night you can be into a different scene. Mayor Miller agreed that people in Toronto need to support Toronto. I would like to be an ambassador to formally and aggressively promote our city."
It will be, Fatah figures, another valuable self-taught lesson. "I've learned about growing too fast and taking too much on. And about living in the moment. I need to sit back sometimes and look around and realize where I'm at."
He crosses one impeccably Paper Denimed leg over the other and contemplates the pointed toe of his black Paciotti shoe.
"My mom gets a kick out of the best-dressed and most-eligible stuff. It's nice to be acknowledged and recognized. But I don't send out press releases."