August 30, 2019 at 8:40 pm EDT | by Joey DiGuglielmo and Mariah Cooper
Labor Day weekend in Rehoboth — checking in with Diego’s, Sundance
Joe Ciarlante-Zuber, gay news, Washington Blade
Joe Ciarlante-Zuber (right) with his husband and business partner Darryl Ciarlante-Zuber. (Washington Blade photo by Daniel Truitt)

Vodka. Lots and lots of vodka. Mostly Tito’s.

That’s pretty much what everybody drinks at Diego’s Bar & Nightclub (37298 Rehoboth Ave.) in Rehoboth Beach, Del., which is just about wrapping its second season in business.

“It’s a gay bar, so it’s like vodka all the time,” says bartender Chad States. 

Doesn’t anybody order scotch, bourbon or whiskey? Or the wine on tap Diego’s owners touted upon opening last year?

“Not much scotch, a little bit of bourbon and whiskey, but I would say 80 percent is vodka,” States states. “The wine is not that popular. It’s just not a big wine-drinking place. Beer drinkers? Ehhh, maybe 10 percent. Depends what night it is.”

States worked before at the Double L Bar, the leather bar that occupied Diego’s building before Joe Ciarlante-Zuber and Darryl Ciarlante-Zuber (husbands and business partners) opened Diego’s in May 2018. They owned and ran Dos Locos for 17 of its 26 years in downtown Rehoboth but took some time off and were ready for a new venture. 

States lives in Philadelphia and teaches photography most of the year but spends summers in Rehoboth with his partner. He approached the Ciarlante-Zubers when he heard they were starting a new venture.

“They’re great,” States says of the owners. “It’s nice to work at a gay bar with gay owners who trust you. They know I’ll take care of what needs to be taken care of.”

Diego’s, whose building was vastly renovated prior to opening, is open year-round except for the first two weeks of January. There are enough residents who live at the beach year round to ensure steady business and it continues to grow.

“Things are good, very good,” Joe Ciarlante-Zuber says. “It took a little while to get things going because we went from the Double L, which was a leather bar, to Diego’s, which is an everybody bar, but we gave it a total makeover. So just getting people to try us and see that it’s different from what it used to be, that took some time.”

When he says an “everybody bar,” he means mostly gay men, but not exclusively. There’s no official ladies night, but lesbians have tended to come out to comprise about half the crowd at the weekly Friday yappy hour from 5-7 p.m. Capacity is 337 and it fills up on weekend nights. On holiday weekends, they erect a tent in the parking lot to increase capacity. There are 12 on staff plus three dancers. They’ve started bringing in internationally known DJs as well such as Dawna Montell from Los Angeles, Isis from Guadalajara and DJ Kitty Glitter (this weekend) from Australia. Full details at diegosbarnightclub.com.

They changed the name from Diego’s Hideaway earlier this year because people assumed it was a restaurant.  

States, 44, likes to bartend shirtless.

“I take my shirt off every chance I get,” he says. “I’m vain as fuck. But particularly in the summer, I have time to go to the gym more and ride my bike and I’m much more attuned to that. The beach anyway is kind of a performance stage where everybody is showing off their bodies. I just like to create an atmosphere that’s casual. It’s a beach town, so you should be able to take your shirt off. It kind of sets the mood for how the customers can behave as well.”

Does he tire of getting hit on?

“I just have fun with it,” he says. “It’s fun to be a little flirtatious at a gay bar where you can have some fun with your sexuality. You can flirt with me, I might flirt back with you, that doesn’t mean we’re gonna fuck. I’m interested in the more fraternal aspect of it. It’s OK to be able to look at each other, have a little fun, but without any agenda. I like to be a little playful, a little flirty, a little sexual.”

Dusty Abshire has lived in the Rehoboth area for about four years and is at Diego’s several times per week. He likes the happy hours, tea dances and occasionally the late DJ parties. He says parking at Diego’s is easier than elsewhere downtown and says the prices tend to be a little more reasonable than at some other bars.

And yes, he’s a vodka drinker.

“Joe sometimes gets a cosmo going for me before I even choose,” Abshire, 40, says. “I just go, ‘OK, I guess I’m having cosmos tonight.’ He makes a really great cosmo.” 

Abshire, who works as a college academic counselor, says he likes the bar because it’s friendly and laid back. He says business has noticeably picked up this summer vs. last.

“Diego’s is just kind of becoming the place, at least for my group of friends and friends I’ve met there. The owners are really good at knowing everybody. There are lots of times in the afternoon, there might just be 10 or 12 of us and we all just kind of sit around and talk together.”

Even so, it hasn’t all been easy. Running a gay dance club/bar in 2019 has challenges, Joe says. 

“It’s taking its time,” he says. “The gay market has changed. With Grindr, Scruff and so forth, you can stay home and meet somebody.”

He says, after conferring with Darryl, the toughest part has been “overcoming the past history.” He says the Double L had gone downhill its last five or so years, so getting people out of that mindset took time.

“It’s nice because it’s not pretentious at all,” Abshire says. “Joe and Daryl are two of the most hardworking, genuine people and they make everyone who comes in feel comfortable and welcomed and that’s the tone of the whole bar.” 

Diego’s isn’t the only popular gay-owned establishment that’s open year-round. The Blue Moon continues its entertainment schedule into the fall with the ever-popular Pamala Stanley’s Sunday tea from 6-8:30 p.m. Newcomer The Pines brings an evolving slate of entertainers to its upstairs space Top of the Pines. The Purple Parrot hosts year-round karaoke. And some of Rehoboth’s most popular events are in the fall, including the fourth annual CAMP Rehoboth Block Party (Sunday, Oct. 20) and the 30th annual Sea Witch Festival (Oct. 25-27).

JOEY DiGUGLIELMO

Sundance goes ‘Ultraviolet’

Sundance 2018, gay news, Washington Blade
The crowded dance floor at last year’s Sundance. (Washington Blade photo by Daniel Truitt)

Annual benefit kicks off new season, new leadership for CAMP Rehoboth

Sundance 2019 Rainbow XXXII: Ultraviolet Disco Day-Glo Sunrise

Rehoboth Beach Convention Center

229 Rehoboth Avenue

Rehoboth Beach, Del.

Auction: Saturday, Aug. 31

6-9 p.m. 

Dance: Sunday, Sept. 1

7 p.m.-2 a.m.

camprehoboth.com/events/sundance-2019

Sundance closes out the summer season for the 32nd year over Labor Day weekend with its annual auction and dance party.

Sundance 2019 Rainbow XXXII: Ultraviolet Disco Day-Glo Sunrise will be the first time CAMP Rehoboth’s new Executive Director David Mariner will be introduced. Mariner will leave his 11-year tenure as executive director at the D.C. Center on Sept. 30. 

CAMP Rehoboth’s founding Executive Director Steve Elkins died from lymphoma in 2018. Murray Archibald, CAMP Rehoboth co-founder and Elkins’ husband, served as interim director since Elkins’ death.

Archibald and Elkins started Sundance as an AIDS fundraiser in 1988 on their 10-year anniversary. 

“All of our friends wanted to do something because it was such a terrible time and so many people were dying. That’s how it got started,” Archibald says. 

The first Sundance was only a dance event but an auction was added post-dance the following year. Eventually, CAMP Rehoboth split the auction and dance into separate days turning Labor Day weekend into a two-day Sundance event.

Sundance grew into CAMP Rehoboth’s biggest fundraiser, according to Archibald. CAMP Rehoboth’s current fundraising efforts benefit the organization’s outreach programs, which serve 6,000 people, and advocacy work and health and wellness programs that have aided 10,000 individuals. 

Years later, Sundance is still a popular event marked on people’s calendars because there’s something for everyone.

“We get the early crowd who wants to be in bed by 10 p.m. and then we have the crowd who wants to stay out all night. They sort of blend and its packed. It’s a lot of fun,” Archibald says.

The Sundance Auction is on Saturday, Aug. 31 from 6-9 p.m. There will be food, an open bar, a silent auction with almost 500 items and a live auction. Lorne Crawford will serve as auctioneer and Stephen Strasser will play music for the night. The Sundance is on Sunday, Sept. 1 from 7 p.m.- 2 a.m. There will be an open bar all night. Special guest DJ Robbie Leslie, whose DJing credits include Studio 54 and Saint, will spin tracks for the night. International DJ Joe Gauthreaux will also play music. 

All proceeds benefit CAMP Rehoboth. Tickets are $50 for one event or $90 for both events. 

While raising money to benefit advocacy is important, there is more to Sundance than simply being a fundraiser. 

“It’s more than just raising money. I think they feel the spirit of family and the community coming together to celebrate. It’s the end of the summer. It’s the beginning of a new season. It’s one of the passages of the year,” Archibald says. “I always laugh because even our lighting and sound crews who come in from Jersey or Baltimore always say to me, ‘This feels like family. Like I’m coming to a good place.’ I think being able to celebrate that is the most important thing about it.”

MARIAH COOPER

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