A father’s vision lives through his son, bringing the city together.
The sports bar/live music venue/local haunt has been keeping First Coasters entertained for nearly 60 years, in good times (lots of those!) and bad (some; ask an AB officer for some histories) but it’s now regarded as a destination for a more seasoned crowd, grownups who just want a couple brews, a good burger and a great time out with the boys. Or the girls … or anyone you know and may want to know better while playing pool, clinking a frosty mug, or doing shots of whatever.
VooSwar got its start from Earnest Davis, who spent at least 10 years constructing the place with his own hands and ingenuity, using ‘vintage’ pieces of steel obtained from the Atlantic Beach Hotel, aka Continental Hotel, built at the turn of the century. The last century; sheesh. Preben Johansen’s Le Chateau Restaurant, one of only four places to have dinner during the first winter we arrived here in the early ’70s, contributed some of the high-end seating arrangements at the teal blue-and-sandcastle yellow building on Robert Street, right off Mayport Road. John Townsend McCormick, always called J.T., was the mover-and-shaker in the exploding construction business in the ’50s and ’60s all over the beaches area; it’s his concrete upon which rug-cutters of every stripe now dance; in VooSwar’s early days, folks just gyrated and rollicked around on the dirt floor.
Davis’ son Lewis Washington handles daily duties at Mr. E’s VooSwar now. He tells the family tale of how the establishment got its unique name. It’s an Americanized version of the word voussoir, a French term for an architectural feature, a “wedge-shaped stone used in constructing an arch,” according to the University of Pittsburgh’s Glossary of Medieval Art & Architecture. The roadhouse/erstwhile dive bar was given the appellate when Davis’ daughters cracked open a big dictionary and thumbed back to where the words began with ’V, ’ choosing a particular word that they believed befitted such a fine enterprise. Davis opened the VooSwar to give Black sailors and other members of the United States’ various military branches a place to go where they’d be welcome; Jim Crow lingered in some areas in Florida long after the rest of the nation had become enlightened. These men and women wore their service uniforms and defended our freedoms, but couldn’t get served in some decidedly run-of-the-mill bars and restaurants when they came back home. So Mr. Davis remedied that nasty situation with the now-legendary VooSwar, surely a fond memory for the countless men and women who passed through Naval Station Mayport’s gates, and no doubt for many a college kid on Spring Break in Atlantic Beach.
Inside, a ping-pong table is in its own playroom off to the left. Walk past the bar (if you can; friendly waitstaff are ready to serve you your choice of cold beer or spirits) and you see what may be the biggest floor fan you’ll ever see on land. We say ’on land’ because it used to grace the deck of a ship, no doubt moored at nearby Mayport Naval Station. Above, there are disco balls sparkling and several pool tables in the dance hall area. As you wander out behind the main building, be advised: There’s a mural that will take your breath away. It was painted last spring by 27 artists, some local, some from other towns, and guided by the Boston-based graffiti artist Hiero Veiga. Earnest Davis, the beloved Mr. E, looks at you with a studied resolve. The visage of the VooSwar founder commands respect, but underneath the solemn expression, there’s love.
Change the name of the place to a more 21st-Century-sounding venue? Not on your life. There’s no good reason we can think of to give it some lame moniker like The Groovy Bar or Ape’s Auntie, amirite?
Writer Marlene Dryden