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Della Licious Dishes on After Dark Bash

Forty years ago, when Leo Vodde brought what was to become After Dark to Fort Wayne, it was a place that folks would slip into and out of discreetly. For years there was a quiet stigma to those who considered walking through the doors. But Vodde brought so much of his own character, energy, and warmth to the establishment that those who did enter were immediately home.

One of those who made After Dark a hot spot is Della Licious who performs her amazing drag show every week. But that’s not all she does. She also hosts the monthly Della’s Drag Brunch and raises funds for the community through that as well as with her stint as chair of the After Dark AIDS Benefit and her own Licious Foundation. For more than half the life of After Dark, Della has found love and acceptance at the nightclub and touts how well the bar has done in even trying economic times.

“It’s very unheard of. Few bars make it 10 years much less 40. Every week the bar is packed. You look around at this enormous crowd, people are everywhere. And it’s a nice group of people.”

She also remembers how welcome she felt the moment she walked in the door.

“When I was growing up ‘29 years ago,’ there was no place I felt I could be my genuine self. I could even be with friends and would still be looking around feeling like I was five minutes away from a hate crime. I’ve been working on the anniversary newsletter and looking at quotes from customers and employees, and I see the same thing over and over. People feel like After Dark is a second home, a place they can be themselves. The one constant in those 40 years is Leo who gives us a place to be our authentic selves.”

The clientele has changed dramatically over the years with After Dark no longer a whispered destination. It’s a hot spot in town. For evidence of its importance to the community, when After Dark hosted a fundraiser in the wake of the 2016 Pulse shootings in Orlando, a crowd lined up around the block to be part of it and show support for the LBGTQ community. That is just one example of how After Dark is a home to people outside of that community too.

“The demographic has shifted,” Della said. “It used to be that if a straight man came in he’d say ‘This is cool, but don’t hit on me.’ But I’ve seen a stigma change. Attitudes have changed, and I never thought 10 years ago that I’d see it happen, that we’d seen the support we do now for transsexuals and transgendered. I’ll walk out of the ladies room, and no one is giving me the stink eye.”

In fact, Della notes, there’s a sense of camaraderie with women for some very obvious reasons.

“Women are used to being fetishized and objectified so they tend to understand and are more sympathetic.”

Celebrating that social evolution and the role that After Dark has played in making that happen in Fort Wayne is important, and you can bet that the parties planned at the bar on Friday, November 5 and Saturday, November 6 will be good ones. Doors open at 6, and the show starts at 11:15 p.m. There’s also an 80s Pop Up Party on Sunday, November 7 complete with trivia games and prizes.

If late nights are no longer your thing, circle Sunday, November 14 on your calendar when Della hosts a very special birthday edition of Della’s Drag Brunch. Along with celebrating Della’s “29th birthday,” the event benefits Positive Resource Center and will feature bingo and a 50/50 raffle for Community Harvest Food Bank. Food insecurity is especially acute during the holiday season, but as Della points out, it’s important everyday. The spirit of generosity and community is at the heart of After Dark and has been for four decades.

“This is something that’s important year round. I figure if I have enough to eat then there’s no reason other people should starve.”

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