Voo Swar, Where Past Meets Present

Located down a quiet street in Mayport is a bar that prides itself on being a building block for the community through generations. Voo Swar Restaurant and Lounge has been open since 1963; a time where segregation was still running rampant not only in the streets of Atlantic Beach and Mayport, but everywhere in the United States. So, it became a place where African Americans could gather without facing judgment and rejection.

Late owner Earnest Davis began building Voo Swar around 1961, but it took a decade building the place by hand to get the space operational. He gathered necessities piece by piece, walls were built brick by brick and concrete was poured from what he gathered from various resources around him. Davis wanted to create a place where those who were unwelcome around most of the beaches could come and gather without worries of retaliation.

Before the restaurant was built, black sailors would step off the ships and attempt to visit local places for a drink. Even after segregation, they were refused services and made to feel unwelcome. Davis had the idea to build a place where they could come after getting off the ships and be welcomed, where all would be welcomed. After saving up money for years, he began his dream but not without hardships.

The building and owner faced retaliation in the form of police, who worked to run the place out of town. Mayor Billy Howell convinced attorney Sam Jacobson to represent Voo Swar and defend it against those who wanted it gone. Customers would stop in for meals, and police would come and kick everyone out.

The Voo Swar became a place of celebration; a place where the beaches’ mayors would gather, and sailors would stop by after hearing about it from all over. Murals were painted and people of all races were welcomed. Davis’s son, Lewis Washington, has since taken over operations of the restaurant, wants everyone to know “about the history of the place and check it out.” Pictures are hung in honor of Davis, even his favorite chair is on a pedestal, letting visitors know he is watching over it.

The restaurant and lounge offers a welcoming environment with food, drinks, dancing, and comedy shows. It gives off an eclectic and comfortable vibe, letting customers know they can let loose and have fun.