Article by Ennis Davis, AICP

Juke Joint History

An early 20th century juke joint in Belle Glade, FL. (Library of Congress)

Said to originate on plantations as rooms for socialization, juke joints may represent the first “private spaces” in the country for African Americans. Derived from the Gullah Geechee word “joog,” they sprouted up across the south following Emancipation as a final bastion for those who wanted to get away from Jim Crow and the pressures of the era.

Typically found on the outskirts of towns, in houses or assumed abandoned buildings, jukes were known for their soul food, barbecue, fish fries, gambling, drinks, sexual liaisons, dancing, and live music. In 1934, Zora Neale Hurston called the juke a space where the likes of Ma Rainey, Arthur Blind Blake and Tampa Red honed their craft; the most important place in America for its contributions to the birth of blues and jazz.

Unlike clubs and bars, patrons at a juke joint tended to know each other. Juke joints also tended to occupy spaces originally constructed for other uses. Most included a small bar, a pool table, a few seats, and colorful decorations. Many did not maintain regular operating hours or public phone numbers, creating a sense of anonymity for safety during Jim Crow. They were open on the random nights where patrons paid admission and for drinks and food and those funds would be used to pay the musicians.

During the Jim Crow era, Northwest Jacksonville was home to several early African-American night clubs and juke joints. Specifically in a triangular shaped area, formed by Avenue B, Moncrief Road, and 45th Street, known as Royal Terrace. Located outside of the city limits of Jacksonville, Royal Terrace developed during the 1940s as an African-American neighborhood featuring streets named after historic black colleges. As the area’s African-American population dramatically increased, so did the juke joints and Chitlin Circuit venues sprouted up in the vicinity. While the majority of these venues no longer survive today, quite a few buildings and sites still do. In honor African-American Music Appreciation Month, here are five sites where the music and hooch once freely flowed.

Havana Nite Club

Owned by Juan Machin and Alberto Desiderio “Ye Ye” Guinart, the Havana Nite Club opened its doors at 5606 Avenue B in 1934. After the original building was destroyed by fire, this structure was built as a replacement in 1970. For many years, the club was managed by an animated black woman named Bolita. Spanish for Little Ball, Bolita was the name of an illegal lottery game that was popular in Cuba and among Florida’s working class Hispanic, Italian, and African-American populations during the early 20th century. Naturally, the Havana Nite Club was a popular underground location for anyone desiring to get involved in the game.

Santo Trafficante, Jr, a reputed mobster based in Tampa, was the kingpin of Florida’s bolita game. On July 1, 1950, the Havana Nite Club and Mac’s Bar and Package Store were raided in an effort by the State Beverage Department to kill the bolita industry in Duval County. The 1950 raid led to the arrest of 55 people with as much as $50,000 seized. Pronounced “Hay-banna”, the club no longer operates, but the former Afro-Cuban night spot’s building still stands on Avenue B.

The Two Spot

The Two Spot (State Archives of Florida)

Opening its doors on Christmas Day 1940, James “Charlie Edd” Craddock’s Two Spot was said to be the finest dance palace in the country owned by an African American. Craddock, the kingpin of LaVilla’s Ashley Street, also owned the Charlie Edd Hotel, the Blue Chip Hotel, and Young Men’s Smoke Shop.

The dance floor could accommodate 2,000 and another 1,000 could be seated surrounding it and on the mezzanine level. The venue also contained a bar, private dining rooms, a cafeteria, speedway, and cabins for overnight stays. Live acts at the Two Spot included B.B. King, Sam Cooke, James Brown, Charlie Singleton, Jackie Wilson, Lionel Hampton, Ray Charles, Dinah Washington, Tiny York, Teddy Washington, and trumpeter Nat Small.

After Craddock’s death in 1957, the Two Spot became the Palms Ballroom and slid into decline. In 1967, the famed Two Spot property was sold, razed and redeveloped into an apartment complex.

Silver Star Lounge

The Silver Star Lounge opened just north of the Havana Nite Club in 1948 at 5668 Avenue B. In 1956, Raymond Taylor took over what was then known as Silver Star Drive-In Liquors. The list of musicians who performed at Silver Star included pianist Robert Grisby, Rhudine “the Brown Bombshell” Hemphill, Lucile Dennis, Caldonia, and a blues shouter named Chico. In addition, the Silver Star featured live performances from former Silas Green and Rabbit’s Foot minstrel show acts, Trombone Watts, BlowTop, and ZooMop.

The Silver Star was managed by Algie Nevels. Nevels also operated a juke joint across the street from the Silver Star. A notorious figure in Jacksonville criminal underworld, Nevels was also a snitch. In 1959, Nevels was murdered at the Silver Star by a white man named George Yancy. In early 2000s, it was owned by Harold Gibson, a former Jacksonville City Councilman. A historic site in its own right, the Silver Star still operates today as the Royal Terrace Men’s Club.

Mac’s Bar and Liquors

Mac’s Bar and Liquors at the intersection of Moncrief Road and Edgewood Avenue in 2007. (Google Streetview)

Mac’s Bar and Liquors was located at the intersection of Moncrief Road and Edgewood Avenue West. Directly facing the Moncrief Cemeteries district, its building at 5966 Moncrief Road dated back to the early 1940s. Like the Havana Nite Club, Mac’s Bar and Liquors was known as a popular bolita spot and raided in 1950 as a part of the State Beverage Department’s push to eliminate the illegal bolita industry in Duval County. Owned several decades by Arthur Miracle, Jr. and Mary Miracle, Mac’s Bar and Liquors closed and the 1.70 acre property was redeveloped into a 15,000 square foot strip mall in 2009.