Legends and Legacies - February 2020
- Story by Rachel Dangermond
“Musically speaking, the Jook is the most important place in America. For in its smelly shoddy confines has been born the secular music known as the blues, and on blues has been founded jazz.
- Zora Neale Hurston
The juke joints or black bars along Sycamore Street and beyond in Bay Saint Louis were more than watering holes; they were private spaces for black people. Bars such as the Krack, the Onion and the Big 5 attracted locals as well as out-of-town visitors looking to greet familiar faces and pass a good time.
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Here in Bay Saint Louis there were dozens of these bars, but at the top of everyone’s list was the Krack Bar & Lounge, owned and operated by Floyd Moseley, Sr. and his family for an extended period of time.
The Krack Bar & Lounge
Claudette Henley remembers that her grandmother owned the property and her dad turned it into a bar a few years after marrying her mother (1935). Her younger brother, Floyd “Martin” Moseley, Jr., worked alongside his father.
“My dad couldn’t read or write, but he could count money,” said Martin.
The building was one large room, and it had a small crack where you could see inside, hence the name. Over time, the Krack grew to have a restaurant on one side and a pool hall on the other.
“The Krack never closed,” said Golden Fairconnetue, whose mother ran a restaurant on Sycamore Street . “No matter where you went, you always wound up back at the Krack.”
According to Calvin Smith, whose grandfather Oswald Gilbert took over after Floyd retired, the Krack was known far and wide and frequented by many people from New Orleans and along the Gulf Coast.
“It had an aura that attracted many customers who liked the atmosphere. Good music, good food and beer by the barrel flowed from behind the bar there,” said Smith.
Blanche Godfrey operated the restaurant and served memorable hamburgers and fries to adults and kids. Oswald Gilbert ran the bar until his death in 1957, and then his son, Anthony, better known as “Gil,” took over. Although Hurricane Camille ravaged the area in 1969, the Krack withstood, and after being patched together with tin, it reopened to a welcoming crowd. The Krack was an ongoing institution until Hurricane Katrina devastated it in 2005.
The Big 5 Club
“James worked for Mr. Mark, a white guy, servicing pool tables, juke music boxes, and vending machines. This gentlemen helped James purchase the building in the 1960s,” said James’s wife, Pinky Lee.
The Big 5 was open seven days a week, and on most weekends didn’t close until way after the sunrise. According to Pinky, James would get a couple hours of sleep and open right back up. The bar sold pig's feet, pig lips and hot links with crackers. The choice of beer was Schlitz, Falstaff and Miller High Life ponies, and Miller Lite. You could always bring in your own half-pint of hard liquor and purchase a setup, which was two Cokes or 7Ups with a bowl of ice.
Two years after James’s death in 1996, Pinky Lee sold the property to Jordan Bush, who eventually made it a church.
Mama Harriet's Snack and Bar
After Mama Harriet lost her eyesight, her daughter-in-law, Olivia, ran the window. When her son, Clarence, and Olivia both passed away, Clarence’s daughter, Ann Evans, came home from New York and renamed it Tavern on the Green, which was short lived due to her health. The place sat abandoned until Hurricane Katrina destroyed it.
“My dad really loved his businesses because he wanted to socialize and be among his friends,” say Lewis's daughter, Ollie Mae Lewis. In the ’70s, the Onion changed its name to the Red Machine Lounge, and Ollie and her sister, Rose, took over the management.
These bars provided places for the African-American community to gather, socialize, and enjoy themselves. The businesses also served the black community's need to engage in activities that were otherwise closed off to black people. According to Calvin, the Krack sponsored an adult football team called the Bay Wildcats that played against other black teams from along the coast, New Orleans, and Mobile.
“Patrons flocked to the bars before and after the basketball and football games. Football was played on the St. Stanislaus athletic field and basketball at the St. Rose de Lima gymnasium (aka the 'Cracker Box').” The Big 5 sponsored a baseball team and the Onion sponsored the Red Machine, a softball team.
Bobby’s favorite line was, “Juke right now only if you are ready,” which earned him the nickname “Juke.” Bobby’s Lounge became the club of the ’80s, where young people felt right at home. The beers of choice were Miller Ponies, Miller lite, Bud and Bud Lite, Heineken and Corona. A host of birthday parties were held there, as was a big New Year’s Eve party every year. The club was later renamed M.C.M. (Making Cash Money).
The Ice House/Lyons Den
His customers favored Jax, Dixie, Schlitz and Falstaff beers, along with some homemade moonshine. There was a jukebox where for 25 cents you could play three songs. They would listen to music by Al Green, Otis Redding, Mary Wells, Marvin Gaye, Etta James, Ray Charles, Diana Ross and so many other legends of the era.
“If only the walls could talk, they would have a lot to say,” his daughter, Dianne Lyons, said. The adult bar was upstairs and there was a teen center on the bottom floor where teenagers could hang out in an ice cream shop under adult supervision.
In 1969, Hurricane Camille devastated the area and destroyed the Ice House. In 1990, The Greedy Man wanted to get back to his passion of music and dancing, so he asked his daughter, Janet Lyons Coe, to help him finance a new business. Janet enlisted her sisters Dianne, Sandra and Connie, and the Lyons Den was created as a family affair.
Each month the Lyons Den hosted fashion shows, car shows, talent shows, horseshoe tournaments, pool tournaments, shrimp and crawfish boils, swing out dance contests, battles of the DJs, and even costume parties and birthday parties.
“We weren’t on Sycamore Street like the other clubs, so we had to be creative,” Dianne said. “Every weekend we had a DJ to keep the music fresh. We had William (Joe Willie) Washington, Damien Maurice, Alton Benoit Jr., Dennis Favre and me (DJ Melo-D).”
The Lyons Den was a roaring success, according to Sandra and Dianne, but after awhile the business took its toll on everybody because all of the sisters had day jobs, too.
The word juke traces its roots to an African word “jook,” which means disorderly or wicked conduct. In the Bay Saint Louis juke joints, there was a freedom to do as one pleased which provided a tremendous release from the Jim Crow blues.
The Krack – (1940s) Sycamore Street, first lot on right after railroad track
The Big 5 – (’40s) 437 Sycamore Street
The Breeze Inn – (’50s) 309 Keller Street
Lewis’ Bar – (’50s) St. Francis Street
Mama Harriett’s Snack & Bar – (’50s) 435 Sycamore Street
The Onion – (’60s) Sycamore Street
Sister & Verna’s Place (’60s) – The Bottom
The Hideaway – (’60s) 524 Main Street
Ice House Bar – (’60s) 308 Blaize Avenue
The Connection – (’70s) Corner of St. Francis & Sycamore Street
Bobby’s Lounge – (’80s) Sycamore Street
The Lyon’s Den – (’90s) 211 Central Avenue