After Hours in Toronto: A Look Inside Comfort Zone

Author : Lee Trotter
September 01, 2016

After Hours in Toronto: A Look Inside Comfort Zone


“It was a magic zoo that we called home…Even after traveling the whole world, Comfort Zone is still untouchable for me. This place moulded who we are today as people and DJs” Carlo Lio

Electronic music knows no boundaries. From the underground in LA to the super clubs of Ibiza, dance music will find it’s way into every crevice around the world. Last year we visited several of the key North American after hour parties with a short series of articles that dug deep into some of the key parties that take place when clubs and bars close down and the real party really gets started.

For the first edition of our After Hour Series we put the spotlight on Asylum Afterhours in Hawaii. We then followed that up by taking a look at our neighbors from the North with an inside look at Comfort Zone in Toronto, Canada.

Canada has always fostered large growth within the techno and underground community, with Toronto being a major hub for artists. As a result, the city has become home to an after hours that is held in high regards by all artists, and is a personal favorite of Toronto locals such as Carlo Lio, Nathan Barato, and The Junkies, among others. For the past twenty years, Comfort Zone has acted as a musical haven for the Toronto groove seekers, and has played an important role in Toronto’s influence on the local and global scene.


Comfort Zone Wide Angle

Outside Comfort Zone

“The exterior is just a simple door in the wall of a building, no fancy shit or big ass signs,” explains Carlo Lio. “Its always been a ‘for those who know place.’” 

At first glance of the exterior it appears to be nothing of significance; just a simple and modest entrance with a plain signing reading “CZ”. It’s hard to believe that the moments within those walls would act as the foundation for careers such as Carlo Lio, Nathan Barato, and The Junkies. But as I learn more about Comfort Zone I realize that everyone involved in the club was creating a powerful sense of community for the Toronto Scene.

CZ FlyerLike many clubs, the residency played a pivotal role in the development of Comfort Zone. And with a club that was notorious for 24 hour marathons, the need for skilled and knowledgeable residents was that much more crucial. Many local Toronto DJ’s such as Deko-ze, Kenny Glasgow, Addy, Tim Patrick, Evil P, and more all played their part in building up Comfort Zone, laying the ground work for the next wave of artists to follow.



Based on the foundations set by early trendsetters at Comfort Zone, the opportunity was there for the next wave of Toronto talent to rise up. Nathan Barato, Carlo Lio, and The Junkies all got started at Comfort Zone in different ways, but eventually all became part of the musical family stemming from the dance floor at Comfort Zone.

“My first experiences were from playing there,” states Nathan Barato. “In nearly all my club life my first experiences were from DJ-ing before I thought to go there as a party goer”.

Where Nathan was always involved in Comfort Zone from an artist perspective, Carlo Lio was exposed to Comfort Zone from the attendee perspective, which certainly made an impact on his outlook on music at the time.

Nathan Barato Press Photo“I stumbled upon Comfort Zone through a friend of mine. I was a straight party goer for many years before I got a chance to play there. I would actually go watch Nathan play there on a regular basis before we knew one another. For me it became a Sunday morning ritual – I would wake up at 5 AM and be there at 6 AM for DJ Addy’s legendary morning sets, followed up by Deko-ze and Kenny Glasgow. I would usually stay there for 24 hours every Sunday! Open to close. Carnival is an understatement” – Carlo Lio

As fate would have it, Carlo would end up becoming a regular in the DJ rotation at Comfort Zone, and helped push the legacy further as the years went on. Collectively with Nathan Barato, they hosted their ‘Weird Science’ party on Sunday nights, and honed in on finding the perfect groove for the patrons of Comfort Zone.

Vince, one-half of The Junkies, reflects on many of the special moments at Comfort Zone. The Toronto techno duo first got their break at Comfort Zone filling in for an open residency, and from there ended up becoming mainstays of the club playing from Thursday through Sunday on many occasions.

CL_NB_TJ John Mitchell

The Junkies (Left) with Carlo Lio and Nathan Barato (Right) playing together in Toronto Photo Credit: John Mitchell

“We were all really developing our sound. But we kinda did things differently at times,” explains Vince. “We went in with more of a “let’s restart” mentality, at times”

In the midst of these techno marathons, it can be hard to pinpoint when the party is truly in full swing, but from their accounts, Comfort Zone was generally most crowded in the morning hours around 6:00-9:00 AM. With the early morning essentially being peak time, this leaves the DJ’s in interesting positions as far as they’re musical programming goes. With an esteemed cast of residents though, there were never any doubts as to the quality of the music coming out of the speakers.

Having the opportunity to play frequently at a place such as Comfort Zone really allowed for growth as artists. From the programming of long sets to understanding the needs and wants of the dance floor, the knowledge that was acquired at Comfort Zone could be applied to any situation around the world.

Comfort Zone Entrance

Throughout their tenure as one of the leading after hour clubs in Toronto, there was really only one speed bump in the clubs history. Many underground clubs fall victim to the inquisition of the authorities, and in 2009 passes were made at the famed Toronto after hour spot.

Reports indicate that the club came under scrutiny after health concerns regarding some of the patrons, but this didn’t last long as the dance community and Comfort Zone rallied together to overcome the investigation. Talking with everyone about the lawsuit, and everyone says the same thing: As long as it didn’t close that’s all we care about. Carlo Lio took it one step further in saying that Comfort Zone has “some magic shield around it.”

Comfort Zone clearly survived, and still stands as one of the longest running after hour spots in Toronto. From the world-class music to the people who frequented the dance floor, Comfort Zone will certainly have it’s place in history when discussing the underground developments of the city.

For more information on Comfort Zone, take a look at the full Q&A session with Carlo Lio and Nathan Barato below.

Photo Credit: John Mitchell

Photo Credit: John Mitchell

6AM: How did Comfort Zone begin? Can you give me a history of the club?

NB: Hmm I don’t know exactly, I jumped in after it was going for a few years when it was called Buzz. I think before the Comfort Zone name took over. Its probably on its 20th year or so now.

CL: Ya I’m not sure of the exact details but I know it’s been around for ages. The upstairs of Comfort Zone is called the Silver Dollar Room, and has been and still is a famous jazz bar. Some great names have been through there. But it’s definitely in its 20+ years as Comfort Zone

Can you describe the appearance of the interior and exterior of the club? 

NB: Well its dark…some pockets are very dark. Its got a ton of little pockets where there are different worlds happening. I don’t know, it’s hard for me to describe. It’s like a dark club carnival. Outside is basically a door in a large building. Above, is a hotel that hookers often take their clients……yay!

CL: The exterior is just a simple door in the wall of a building, no fancy shit or big ass signs. Its always been a “for those who know place”. Inside as Nathan said – is super dark. With a few black lights here and there. No strobe lights or anything that cost real money, which I love. From when I used to go, it was like a club with different world happening inside. Everyone had their own spot. From dealers, Asians and juice bags. It was pretty funny!

Carlo Lio Press PhotoWhen and how were you exposed to the after-hour scene in Toronto? Do you remember some of the first after hour parties you experienced? If so, can you tell us a little about it?

NB: My first time was when my brother took me to a booze can with his friends. I was 16. They made me walk in with a cigarette in my mouth trying to make me look older. It was amazing. Dark place, one light bulb, and packed. Felt like the floor was going to cave in. Music was insaaaaaaane. I was hooked.

CL: For me it was around the age of 16-17. My buddy went to some rave and said we need to go to this place Comfort Zone. So we all went, and I basically went every single weekend after that until the rave scene was shutdown. I was instantly hooked. I believe my first rave was at the Automotive Centre or the Better Living Centre. There was a whole whack of DJs from Bad Boy Bill, DJ Dan, DJ Sneak and so many more. I’ll never forget those days.

Many after hour spots pride themselves on the residents. Who were some of the main residents when you first started going? And who are some of the current residents today?

NB: Ya in those days when I first started out Addy, Deko-ze, and Kenny Glasgow were really big….honestly all the DJs were pretty on point, those days. Everyone played their best at Comfort Zone. I don’t know much about what’s happening there these days but I know my friends Jonathan Rosa, Joee Cons and Jayforce play there. I hear it’s still slammed.

CL: Yeah I used to enjoy the Toronto residents just as much as the international acts if not more back in those days. But yeah when it first started it was guys like Addy, Deko-ze, Kenny Glasgow, and Manzone & Strong. But there are so many more to name that I really loved. From Myka, Tim Patrick, El Duran, Evil P, Paranoid Jack, Peter & Tyrone, the list goes on, and as Nathan said everyone would always play their best at Comfort Zone. Back then you would see 24 hours of non stop great music. I have yet to see that since. As of today, I am a bit out of touch with the main local residents but guys like Chris Larsen, Jonathan Rosa, Joee Cons, Mike Terrazanno, and Jayforce still play as residents or used to as of recently.

What are some of the other popular clubs in the Toronto area? Where do people generally start/end their night?

NB: Coda and Nest are the best spots in Toronto right now but at the same time I haven’t been out a ton in the city since traveling more and more so I may not be the best person to ask LOL

CL: As of today, Coda is definitely numero uno. We now also have Nest which I hear is great. They go until about 5 AM. In terms of where they go afterwards, well I’m sure Comfort Zone is still a popular choice, and there are probably some new places these days that I’m unaware of. For us it was only Comfort Zone back in the day!


Ant Brooks at Coda

For you guys, what’s your preferred musical style for an after-hour? Some people like to keep things very deep and hypnotic while others keep the energy and the groove at a steady pace.

NB: I’m open to either…as long as its good I can get into it

CL: Yeah I agree with Nathan here, I like so many styles , as long as its appropriate to the environment and peoples vibes at that specific time, anything works for me.

Can you show us a track or two that defines the sound of Comfort Zone?

NB: For me its Chiapet – Westworld

CL: Tough one but Superchumbo – This Beat Is (Peace Division remix) is definitely up there, and stands out for me!

When we spoke at Sound, I vaguely remember you guys mentioning that Sunday into Monday morning was the main night at Comfort Zone. What was it like playing an after hours on a Sunday going into the week? 

NB: Well we had our ‘Weird Science’ thing happening at 8pm-12am Sunday night which worked really well. People would come out and jam for some time and still get home and sleep in time to work next day. But of course there was a lot of people that have been going since Saturday night and stay till it closed

What makes Comfort Zone a special place for you guys?

NB: For me, it was just the kind of spot where all walks of life were welcome. Literally had all nations represented at times. Gay, straight, bi, tri, quads …doesn’t matter…all were welcome and I think that added to the vibe in a way that was hard to match at other spots around the city.

CL: To go off Nathan’s reply, that was a huge thing. All walks of life, no judgement, poor people,rich people, old and young. It was like our times version of [Studio] 54. It was a magic zoo that we called home and actually felt comfortable in it. Even after traveling the whole world, Comfort Zone is still untouchable for me. This place also moulded who we are today as people and DJs. I can’t imagine what I would sound like today if I hadn’t of gone all those years ago.

Obviously afterhours parties operate in the late hours of the night, or early hours of the morning, depending how you look at it…So we must ask, what’s the craziest thing you’ve seen at 6:00 AM?

NB: Hmm all I can think of now is sex happening on a couch that was there behind the DJ. Nasty couch! Do not sit on for sure [laughs] – don’t do it!

CL: Yes don’t ever sit on the couch!! Because you may grow a tail [laughs]. But yeah I’ve seen it all there…from sex in the corners, to sex on the dance floor. But it was fine. That’s a place you went to be care free. So go nuts!

What are some of your fondest moments at the club?

NB: Definitely all DJ moments. Always had such a great time playing there. One of my favorites ever, was super long extended back to back with Carlo and The Junkies…such a vibe!

CL: Yes, I agree. Playing as The Roaches was a big highlight. Loved every minute of that time, especially when we played Comfort Zone. And when our marathon events began whether it was Nathan and I, or the Junkies too, it was jus crazy times.

What’s the best part of after hours at Comfort Zone?

NB: I loved it all [laughs]

CL: Impossible question – ALL of it

Where is the Toronto scene right now? Are you happy with where it’s at? Where does the city draw it’s musical influence?

NB: It’s hard for me to comment on the scene really right now because of all the travel I’ve been doing. But from my perspective it seems very healthy and fun. It seems to be peaking these days which makes me happy.

CL: I can’t really comment on exactly how it is today. But I always keep my ear to the ground, and it looks as healthy and strong as ever. Electronic music in Toronto has always been huge – I can only see it going upwards for our city. People always looking to make parties and try new things and we’ve seen that a lot in the city over the past few years. In terms of influences – well I think that just Toronto itself is an inspiration. We have amazing people there and the city has exported a TON of great artists and still continues to do so.

What’s the best place to eat before and/or after a night at Comfort Zone?

NB: When I think of Comfort Zone and food, there is only one option….CZ chicken fingers (for those who know).

CL: Why leave Comfort Zone? That’s a big NO NO! Chicken fingers to die for………I don’t think I wanted to try anything else. Too good!