When party promoters Tony Fornabaio and Brandon Voss began working together several years ago, the two figured their new venture would be little more than a fun sideline from their regular careers.
The success of their very first Rockit Friday night party at Chelsea’s Quo changed all of that. With raucous and diverse events featuring artists including Fergie, Ke$ha, Lil’ Kim, and Kelis, FornabaioVoss Events has managed to put the life back into nightlife.
“After the recession, gay nightlife had dropped off a lot, and although it was our intention to start a Saturday night party first, when a Friday night slot came along, we jumped on it,” said Fornabaio. “It started off with a bang, and consistently grew from that time on.”
Tony Fornabaio and Brandon Voss have become accidental club royalty in New York
“Our first night at Rockit was big. Our second was bigger. By the third Friday, you couldn’t even get in!” said Voss. “I hadn’t seen lines like that in New York for a gay club since the days of the old scene.”
FornabaioVoss followed that with their Saturday night Club 57 parties at Providence nightclub in Hell’s Kitchen near Columbus Circle. Back were the club kids, with their elaborate costumes, and with them the muscle boys, drag queens, go-go boys, and divas.
“The opening night of Club 57 was as big and as popular as any big club in the Studio 54 and Roxy days,” said Fornabaio. “We weren’t aiming for that, but to everyone’s surprise, the lines wrapped around the corner. Our DJ, Tony Moran, was skeptical at first, saying, ‘Everyone does a great opening night,’ but we consistently stayed at that level, and he has been spinning for us ever since.”
The two were certainly not groomed for this particular sort of success. Voss, a Florida native, was working as an investment banker when the market crashed several years ago, and he was out on his ear. Fornabaio was in graduate school, moonlighting as a bartender at bars from xl to g lounge to Splash. But both wanted something different.
“So I figured, while I know a lot of gay guys, Tony knows a lot of gay guys,” said Voss. “We figured it would be something to tide us over, but here we are two years later, leaders in New York’s nightlife.”
FornabaioVoss Events’ recent parties included a single release party for artist Lil’ Kim, during which Fornabaio said DJ Lady Bunny — who Voss pointed out “has been there every Friday night since day one — came charging through the crowd to have her photo taken with her.
“Lil’ Kim was probably like, ‘Who is this giant drag queen?’” Fornabaio said.
The two followed that on January 28 with the launch party for season three of Logo TV’s hit series “RuPaul’s Drag Race.”
“I love drag queens!” Voss exclaimed, saying that he had invited two or three contestants from each of the earlier seasons — including Ongina, JuJuBe, and Bebe Zahara Benet — to perform at the event.
Lest you think these boys are all about mindless go-go boy action, FornabaioVoss found their inspiration for their New Year’s Eve Second Annual Black and White Ball, held at the Lower East Side’s Angel Orensanz Foundation, from Truman Capote’s legendary 1966 Black and White Ball at the Plaza Hotel.
“When Brandon and I first started to do these parties, we tried to get the Plaza ballroom for our Saturday night parties, but the red tape was impossible,” said Fornabaio. “We had Lady Gaga on hold at the time, and it could have been a big sensation, but it never came through. Brandon and I love glamour, and when we looked at our New Year’s Eve party, we were originally inspired by the photo of Capote looking into a mirror as he got ready for his Black and White Ball. It added another layer to what we do.”
“We wanted to do a quality party, not a rage druggie party,” Fornabaio continued. “Unless you’re an older gay man, you don’t usually go to a lot of black-tie parties. We wanted to educate our consumers and give 20-year-olds a glamorous party set in an old ballroom with hundreds of gays in tuxedos.”
FornabaioVoss Events strives to create a diverse party scene, where muscle boys, lesbians, and drag queens can dance the night away in harmony. Similarly, they try to move the parties to areas where they are needed.
“There was no dance party going on in Hell’s Kitchen, so we brought that there with Club 57,” said Fornabaio. “Then we did our New Year’s Party on the Lower East Side. Before that we held it at the Chelsea Art Museum.”
Times Square is the next destination for FornabaioVoss. The two aspiring promoters have teamed up with xl club owner John Blair and his partner Beto Sutter to present the xl Dance Bar at The Out NYC. This entertainment destination will feature a hotel run by Barcelona–based Axel Hotels, a spa, a gym, pool, and wellness center, a restaurant, shops, a reception hall geared toward same-sex weddings, and the ground floor centerpiece, a 14,000 square-foot dance club and performance space. The club, set to open sometime later this year, seeks to become a destination for gay New Yorkers and tourists alike.
“We are going to continue in our partnership with John Blair, and bring to the table what we’re doing now,” said Fornabaio. “We are not abandoning our past, but we will merge our ideas together. And yes, there is a wow factor there, but we can’t release the details of that yet.”
In the meantime, the boys of FornabaioVoss continue to stage the best parties the city has seen in some time. In their downtime, they manage to give back to the community in the form of benefits for groups including Gay Men’s Health Crisis, the LGBT Community Center, and — in a commitment aimed at addressing the tragic incidence of suicide among LGBT youth — the Trevor Project and the “It Gets Better” campaign.
“We will be doing a launch party for the book about the celebrities involved in the ‘It Gets Better’ campaign this April, and will do a book signing and fundraiser at that time,” said Fornabaio.
“We want to keep building bigger and better things,” said Voss. “We have planned a huge Pride party on Governor’s Island this year, which should be a major event, and we are looking to take the concept to other places, from Buenos Aires to California.”
For more information on these two club scene movers, visitfveventsny.com.