Leo Vodde is nothing if not a hard worker. By the time he had bought the After Dark nightclub in 1981, he already had a pretty lengthy resumé. While still at school at Bishop Dwenger, he held three jobs – one with Mike’s Car Wash, one with the city as a meter reader and one at the Allen County Public Library where he worked in the genealogy department. He eventually took a job at Scott’s grocery and following his graduation was made manager. From there he got a job at International Harvester.
“When I started working at Harvester, I thought I was set for life,” Vodde says. “But I got laid off. Then the opportunity to buy the bar came along. I heard the owner was selling.”
By the time Vodde finalized the purchase in November 1981, he had just celebrated his 24th birthday. If that sounds young to be a new bar owner, it is.
“I was young and seeing that atmosphere, all those people having a good time and relaxing, I just really enjoyed it. I didn’t know anything about the bar business except from the other side, so it was challenging. But I guess I was pretty mature for my age.”
That’s an understatement. At an age when many are still trying to figure out what they want to be when they grow up, Vodde found himself the owner of a nightclub which catered to a mostly gay clientele. His business was fairly brisk for awhile until another bar with a similar following opened on The Landing.
For a few weeks, Vodde was devastated to see his customers leave to check out the new place, but by New Year’s Eve that year they had all come flocking back. And despite the swings of the economy in the last 35 years, Vodde has enjoyed a steady business and regular, devoted customers. But that’s not to say those early years weren’t demanding.
“Most of the time in the beginning I was the only bartender,” he says. “I had some others come in on the weekends, but I was working day and night. I’d go home at night and try to talk about my day and couldn’t even keep a train of thought. I was so tired, but I’d get a good night’s sleep and be ready to get back at it the next day.”
Vodde says that his age probably played a role in many of his early decisions, given his lack of experience in the business.
“Maybe I wasn’t mature enough to make the right decisions at the time because I didn’t always think things through before I did stuff. But on the other hand, things did seem to work out. And I did enjoy myself.”
When asked if there were challenges along the way, Vodde says that there were improvements necessary to the facility, the price you pay for having an older building in the heart of downtown. But overall he feels like things have run fairly smoothly for him, despite many of the obstacles faced by other restaurants and nightclubs.
“I always tried to save for a rainy day, so when business was good, I appreciated it. When business was slower, I was grateful for what I had.”
The expectations of the customers have changed somewhat over the years, and the biggest change Vodde has seen is in the music. When he took over After Dark, the disco craze was just beginning to fade away, but dancing was still the biggest draw.
“The dancing was non-stop,” says Vodde. “Everybody danced from opening to closing. Any show that we had was secondary. But now people like to be entertained, so if we have a show, the drag show or whatever, people like to enjoy that. Then the dancing will start later on. Most of the changes over the years is with the music. We have a diverse crowd, so we have to play a lot of music that I wouldn’t necessarily play myself. That’s why I have a DJ come in – because they can play music that will appeal to everyone. The music has really changed over the years.”
Vodde also seems to pine a little for the way the bar used to function before computers and technology took over.
“If it were up to me, we’d have an old-fashioned cash register,” he says. “I liked it when the bartenders would just pour a drink without putting it into the computer first. But you have to keep up with the times.”
The widening acceptance of the LGBT community, which has become particularly apparent in the last decade with marriage equality and the acceptance of different lifestyles, means that more straight couples also visit After Dark. And that unity of spirit was particularly evident in June after the shootings at Pulse, a gay nightclub in the Orlando area. After Dark decided to hold a benefit for victims, and Vodde was surprised by the turnout that evening.
“That night was so overwhelming. I saw people I hadn’t seen in years and straight people who don’t normally stop by. We had a line of people around the building. It caught all of us off-guard. We raised $13,500 that night, but it wasn’t really about the money. It was mostly a show of support for the victims in Orlando.”
Vodde is unsure what percentage of his customers are now gay or straight because, as he points out, they don’t ask people at the door to declare themselves. He’s just happy to see people enjoying themselves. And there will be extra reasons for people to stop by to enjoy themselves the week of November 2 when After Dark celebrates 35 years under Vodde’s ownership. Vodde is looking forward to the week but is relatively modest about its larger meaning. A full schedule of events that week will be available on the After Dark Nightclub Facebook page as the week grows nearer, but Vodde does admit to being excited about visiting performer Darcel Stevens from the Parliament House (also in Orlando) who will serve as emcee.
“She’s a great MC and comedian, so I’m looking forward to that. It’s just another milestone, but it’s exciting. And I look forward to seeing what tomorrow brings.”
Click on the headings below for full calendars
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Career Fair —Job and internship fair with more than 50 companies recruiting for over 1,000 positions, 12-3 p.m. Thursday, March 23, Walb Classic Ballroom, IPFW, Fort Wayne, free, 481-0689
Guided History Tour and Lunch — Tour of Allen County Courthouse and Swinney Homestead with lunch at the Homestead, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Thursday, March 23, tour begins at Allen Co. Courthouse, Fort Wayne, $25, 747-1501
Lizzie Shea — Premier of the Italian Friend ArtRuckus web-series featuring local actors and businesses, 7 p.m. Thursday, March 23, Artlink Contemporary Art Gallery, Fort Wayne, free, 424-7195
Click header for complete On the Road calendar
Cloud Catcher w/Bison Machine, Big Money & The Spare Change — Rock/metal at Brass Rail, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m., $5, 267-5303
Crowder w/Britt Nicole, Tenth Avenue North, Andy Mineo, Colton Dixon, NewSong, Thousand Foot Krutch, OBB, Sarah Reeves, Steven Malcolm — Contemporary Christian at Allen County War Memorial Coliseum, Fort Wayne, 7 p.m., $10, 483-1111
Marcus King Band — Blues at C2G Music Hall, Fort Wayne , 8 p.m., $15-$30, 426-6434
Styx — Pop at Honeywell Center, Wabash, 7:30 p.m., $49-$125, 563-1102
Click header for complete Music & Comedy calendar
Columbia Street West Unplugged feat. George Gardner and Mitch Frazier — Acoustic at Columbia Street West, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m., no cover, 422-5055
Fort Wayne Karaoke & DJ's — Karaoke at Nick's Martini & Wine Bar, Fort Wayne, 8 p.m.-12 a.m., no cover, 482-6425
Fort Wayne Karaoke — Variety at Latch String Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 483-5526
Hubie Ashcraft — Acoustic at Checkerz Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 8-10 p.m., no cover, 489-0286
IPFW Music Faculty and Friends Showcase Concert — Classical at Rhinehart Recital Hall, IPFW, Fort Wayne, 7:30 p.m., $4-$7, 481-6555
Jeff McDonald — Folk at Don Hall's Guesthouse, Fort Wayne, 7-10 p.m., no cover, 489-2524
Jessica Brita-Segyde — Acoustic at Beamer's Sports Grill, Fort Wayne, 7-10 p.m., no cover, 625-1002
Lee Lewis All Stars — Blues/R&B at The Supper Club & Lounge, Fort Wayne, 7-10 p.m., no cover, 451-8223
Open Mic — Hosted by Mike Conley at Mad Anthony Brewing Co., Fort Wayne, 8-11 p.m., no cover, 426-2537
Open Stage Jam — Hosted by Pop 'n' Fresh at Office Tavern, Fort Wayne, 8:30 p.m.-12:30 a.m., no cover, 478-5827
Outta Hand — Rock at Dupont Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 8-10 p.m., cover, 483-1311
Tronic — EDM at O'Sullivan's Italian Irish Pub, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 422-5896
Click header for complete Karaoke & DJs calendar
Bucca Karaoke w/Bucca — Variety at Deer Park Irish Pub, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 432-8966
Classic City Karaoke w/Bryan Lee — Variety at The Venue, Angola, 9 p.m.-1 a.m., no cover, 665-3922
DJ Shawn — Karaoke/variety at Club Paradise, Angola, 10 p.m., no cover, 833-7082
Fort Wayne Karaoke — Variety at Latch String Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 483-5526
Fort Wayne Karaoke w/Jay — Variety at Arena Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 8 p.m., no cover, 557-1563
Fort Wayne Karaoke w/TJ — Variety at Rack and Helen's, New Haven, 10 p.m., no cover, 749-5396
Karaoke with Rooster — Variety at By: Belle Haven, South Whitley, 8 p.m., no cover, 866-716-9213
Karaoke — Variety at Crooner's Karaoke Bar, Fort Wayne, 10 -.m.-3 a.m., no cover, 486-1979
Live DJ — Variety at Wrigley Field Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 485-1038
Shooting Star Prod. w/Stu — Variety at Double Down, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m., no cover, 435-4567
Shotgun Prod. Karaoke — Variety at Paul's Pub, Kendallville, 10 p.m., no cover, 340-1318
Sidecar Gary's Karaoke & DJ w/Ben — Karaoke at Spudz Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 7-11 p.m., no cover, 493-7292
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Click header for complete Art calendar
22nd Annual Valentine’s Invitational — Works from local and national artists, Tuesday-Saturday and by appointment thru March 31, Castle Gallery Fine Art, Fort Wayne, 426-6568
2017 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards — Award-winning works from northern Indiana and northwest Ohio middle and high school students, Tuesday-Sunday thru April 9, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $5-$7 (members, free), 422-6467
Afros: A Celebration of African Hair by Michael July — Contemporary photography exhibit by Brooklyn author/photographer, daily thru April 14, D’Agostino Art Gallery, Indiana Tech, Fort Wayne, 399-8626
An Artful Spring — Works by Gwen Gutwein, Patricia Weiss, Austin Cartwright and more, Tuesday-Saturday thru March 31, Crestwoods Frame Shop & Gallery, Roanoke, 672-2080
Decatur Sculpture Tour — 31 original sculptures and 15 permanent exhibits on display, walking tour maps available, thru April 1, Decatur, free, 724-2605
Echolilia — Works from Timothy Archibald and his autistic son, Eli, Tuesday-Sunday thru June 11, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $5-$7 (members, free), 422-6467
Entropy — Daniel Swartz solo exhibition explores relationship between death and mourning through combinations of mythology, mathematics, multi-dimensional physics and pop culture, Monday-Saturday thru April 1, Jennifer Ford Art, Fort Wayne, 740-1309
An Exploration of Perspective — Multimedia works by Deborah Robinson Miller, Tuesday-Sunday thru March 24, Artlink Contemporary Art Gallery, Fort Wayne, 424-7195
Diane Allen Groenert — Exhibition of local artist’s Downtown Series and new works, Monday-Saturday, March 24-June 24 (artist reception 6-8 p.m. Friday, March 24), West Central Microcreamery & Cafe, Fort Wayne, 415-9293
Expressions of Existence — An exhibition of works by artists through history, including Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol, Francisco Goya and others whose works have been influenced by disabilities, Tuesday-Sunday thru June 11, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $5-$7 (members, free), 422-6467
Fort Wayne Artist Guild Exhibitions — Works by Alice Siefert at Aldersgate United Methodist Church, Jennifer Caudel at Allen County Retinal Surgeons, Anita Trick, Citizens Square (2nd and 3rd floors), Darlene Selzer Miller at The Einhaus Group for Women’s Health, Patricia Weiss at Heritage of Fort Wayne, Emily Jane Butler at Ophthalmology Consultants (Southwest), Linda Binek at Ophthalmology Consultants (North), Carolyn Stachera at Rehabilitation Hospital of Fort Wayne, John Kelty at ResCare Inc. Adult Day Service, Wiletta Blevins at Town House Retirement, Karen Bixler at Visiting Nurse Hospice and Barb Yoder and Karen Harvey at Will Jewelers, thru April 30, fortwayneartistguild.org.
Fort Wayne Photographers Club — Exhibition featuring local photographers, Tuesday-Sunday thru April 30, Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory, Fort Wayne, $3-$5 (2 and under, free), 427-6440
Garden Party — Garden-themed works in a variety of mediums from over 30 local artists, Monday-Saturday thru March 31, Orchard Gallery of Fine Art, Fort Wayne, 436-0927
Generations: A View of Who Was Who — Works by Romare Bearden, Kara Walker, Alma Thomas, Jacob Lawrence and other African-American artists, Tuesday-Sunday thru April 9, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $5-$7 (members, free), 422-6467
Glass: A Medium in Art and Automobiles — Dale Chihuly blown glass and fiberglass auto, daily thru Sept. 8, Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum, Auburn, $7.50-$12.50, 925-1444
Liberations of Line & Matter — Digital works by Adam Meyer, Tuesday-Sunday thru March 24, Artlink Contemporary Art Gallery, Fort Wayne, 424-7195
A Mary Poppins Garden Party — Child-oriented garden exhibit, Tuesday-Sunday thru April 1, Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory, Fort Wayne, $3-$5 (2 and under, free), 427-6440
Moments in Time: Reflecting on the Human Spirit — Elizabeth Opalenik photographs from her recent Amish series A Journey Home and her Reflecting on the Edge exhibition, daily thru March 26, Visual Arts Gallery, IPFW, Fort Wayne, 481-6709
Outdoor Sculpture Invitational — Fifteen outdoor sculptures from regional artists, daily thru April 30, School of Creative Arts campus, University of Saint Francis North Campus, Fort Wayne, 399-7999
Overlapping in the Proximity of the Sublime — Works by Ashley Beatty, Tuesday-Sunday thru March 24, Artlink Contemporary Art Gallery, Fort Wayne, 424-7195
RAW. Untamed. Unashamed. Visions of Freedom. — Abstract romanticist works in acrylics and epoxy from Kristy Jahn, Fridays and Saturday-Thursday by appointment thru March 25, The Gallery at Pranayoga, Fort Wayne, 423-9642
Semantic Sequences — Exhibition of letterpress prints by Stephanie Carpenter, assistant director of the Hamilton Wood Type & Printing Museum in Two Rivers, Wisconsin, Tuesday-Sunday thru March 24, Artlink Contemporary Art Gallery, Fort Wayne, 424-7195
Sharon — An exhibition of Leon Borensztein photographs chronicling the struggles he faced raising his severely disabled daughter, Tuesday-Sunday thru June 11, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $5-$7 (members, free), 422-6467
Wabash County Schools Exhibition — Works by high school art students, daily thru April 16, Clark Gallery, Honeywell Center, Wabash, 563-1102