I’ve been to The Comfort Zone about 10 times. There are dealers, junkies and general scumbags just as you’ve read in the news. One area was always filled with hulking shirtless gay dudes, Russian gangster-looking types or Chinese gangster-types. Relatively normal people are the slight majority however. I met a television producer at The Zone once, a real-estate agent, and a couple lawyers.
Other intimate morning promotions like The New Basement are patronized by house aficionados and scenesters, but seem quaint, almost prudish by comparison. With crowds of up to 300 hardcore partiers stuffed into a dirty little basement from 4 a.m. Sunday morning, till 4 a.m. Monday morning, The Comfort Zone has been in a league of its own since the mid 90’s. It’s even buzzed about in club scenes like Sydney, London and Miami. There is no other place like The Comfort Zone in Toronto.
With a second consecutive Sunday morning raid on Easter Sunday, police hope to discourage people from going. They’d like to close the place down, but currently don’t have legal grounds. Club regulars are confident it will remain open indefinitely. Some even gloated that the DJ Deko-Ze dropped a hard beat before authorities had even left the building after Sunday’s smaller scale raid during which two men were charged with selling ecstasy, ketamine and GHB. The previous raid resulted in 33 arrests and the confiscation of $30,000 worth of drugs.
Typically, the College and Spadina venue attracts those who’ve partied all night at a massive club like Guvernment, an all-night gay club or anywhere a DJ spins house music. People show up between 4 and 8 a.m. on a Sunday. If a party-person takes ecstasy at 5 a.m., their serotonin-happy brain might consider resting at home far more objectionable than this dank, weirdo pit.
Glance over your shoulder and a 65-year-old Korean woman is energetically bopping to the hard drum and bass beat. One regular had a severe neurological impairment, he’d sit shirtless in the middle of the dance floor steering his wheelchair to the repetitive beat.
There is a black-light on the dance floor that makes everyone appear somewhat monsterish whether you are on drugs or not. This creates a sinister element that thrills and disgusts at the same time. There are gorgeous 19-year-old girls and terrifying old hags who claim they’re 35. You can spill your guts about your divorce to some kid who listens better than your therapist, or get ripped off by a career hustler.
“It’s the only club I know of that you can attend in pajamas if you want. I’ve done it once, and I give everybody props that I see in sneakers, a tee, and pajama pants. It is after all the ‘Comfort’ Zone. Anything goes, within reason,” said Danny Rosado, an event planner now living in New York.
At 11 a.m. The Silver Dollar opens. Walk up a flight of stairs and show your ID, get searched by a bouncer, then listen to a different DJ, maybe take in a break-dancing competition and pour a little booze on top of your drug buzz.
Rosado points out that DJs like Deko-Ze measure up with talent at the hottest clubs in the world. “The sound system is incredible. The fact that it’s a basement with low ceilings makes the bass even more powerful, and the tracks that much more intense. It’s very dark with subtle lighting that gets you more in tune with your senses. It’s almost primal when you’re in the zone at Zone.”
“The reason the music appeals is the tactile high MDMA gives you, and to have that subsonic pressure in the air you literally feel it. It’s like pushing yourself in a womb,” said Scott O’Nanski, a bouncer who’s worked in the industry for over a decade. “I’d like to say it’s about the music and the scene, but it hasn’t been about that since 1998. It is about drug use.”
On Facebook many call it their church and consider the police raids a brutal injustice. Rosado sees something of value in The Zone that he feels hasn’t been recognized. “The community proves to be beneficial for so many people. For some people like my best friend, his friends from the scene are his family. We are all he has. And some days, with great music and great friends, Comfort Zone can feel like home for some people. The people that love that place take care of that place and each other.”
Zone rats, as some proudly identify, don’t deny the dangerous and unsavoury elements, but they prefer to focus on the kind-hearted people who discuss Noam Chomsky on couches or the open vibe that allows many new friendships to blossom.
O’Nanski doesn’t buy the “family of music-lovers” line. “The number of people who aren’t there for drugs is negligible,” he said. Finding drugs isn’t difficult. Dealers circle the club asking if you need anything. Ecstasy costs the uninitiated $15 and could be cut with DXM and other elements far removed from MDMA.
“Anyone with even the most basic observational skills can determine the traffic flow will gravitate towards one individual, and he’s the guy to go to because he has the good stuff at a good price. You’re looking at a four to six hour high for as low as $10,” said the 34-year-old O’Nanski.
He believes The Comfort Zone appeals to suburbanites and 905’ers like Andrew Fazio because “it’s a subculture, not mainstream and not readily acceptable. It’s a hedonistic lifestyle people can’t experience in their daily life and it is over the top to the point where people can die.” He points out that after tripping from midnight to 8 a.m., some who don’t live downtown come down at The Zone to avoid driving home stoned.
Whether Comfort Zone culture intrigues or horrifies you, it’s hard to deny that reckless ingesting of drugs containing unknown chemicals makes The Zone a hazard, especially for new patrons. O’Nanski is amazed more people haven’t died for this reason, “They don’t know GHB can be concentrated to an extent where you won’t know how potent what you’re taking is. They don’t know that an E could have chemicals that your liver can’t break down. They don’t understand the inherent dangers.”