Legendary Gay Bar Owner. She grew up in Alabama, third youngest of the twelve children of Ester Lather Horton and Franklin Montgomery Boen. Her siblings included: Villa M., Ora Lee, Ellen, John B., Edison R., Baseal, Milton, Delmas, Audrey, Geral, and Fay. The family farm where she was raised was on Hog Creek Road, in Rock Spring, Marshall County, Alabama. After she graduated from Douglas High School in Montgomery, she moved in 1944 to Jacksonville, Florida where she got a job at the King Edward Cigar Company. Twenty years later, she opened her first bar at Beach Boulevard and Forest. She later moved the bar to Phillips Highway and eventually opened the Crow Bar in Jacksonville Beach. Around 1980, she opened Bo's Coral Reef at 201 Fifth Avenue North in Jacksonville Beach. At the time of her death in 2010, Bo's Reef was the area's oldest gay bar.
Obituary, The Florida Times-Union, (Jacksonville, FL), March 11, 2010
Roverta Boen: 1924-2010. Bar owner offered place for gay crowd. Roverta Boen of Neptune Beach, who owned the area's oldest gay bar, died Tuesday night at Baptist Beaches Hospital of heart disease. She was 86. Funeral arrangements will be announced by Hardage-Giddens Funeral Home, Jacksonville Beach. Born in Montgomery, Ala., Ms. Boen graduated from Douglas High School there in 1944 and came to Jacksonville and worked at King Edward Cigar Company. Known as "Bo," she began working as a bartender at the Southside Lounge in 1950. In the early 1960s, she opened the first Bo's Reef at Beach and Forest boulevards. It catered to gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual as well as the straight crowd, and Ms. Boen took pride in providing a place where everyone was welcome and there was no discrimination. She later moved the lounge to a location on Philips Highway. Next she opened the Crow Bar at Jacksonville Beach, according to David Davis, her general manager and caretaker who lived with her. "Bo was like a mother to me," Davis said. "I met her 30 years ago when I was just 15 and she raised me. Most recently, she helped me adopt a son."
Ms. Boen opened Bo's Coral Reef at its present location, 201 N. Fifth Ave. in Jacksonville Beach, in the 1980s. The nightclub has open talent shows every Thursday night and drag shows every Friday and Saturday night. Ms. Boen was known as a feisty woman who spoke her mind. During the fishing pier debate in 2001, she spoke up in favor of moving the pier to its new location at Fourth Avenue North in the downtown business district, even though she was surrounded by a standing-room-only crowd that wanted to restore the old wooden fishing pier at the old location at Sixth Avenue South. "Bo was very fun-loving, but very firm," Davis said. "She spoke exactly what was on her mind. She was very fair, but she ran a tight ship and didn't put up with any garbage."
Survivors include a sister, Fay Fourman of Birmingham, Alabama. Memorial contributions are suggested to the American Cancer Society, 1430 Prudential Drive, Jacksonville, FL 32207, as Ms. Boen was a survivor of breast cancer.
Obituary, The Florida Times-Union (Jacksonville, FL), March 13, 2010
Roverta "Bo" Boen: Landmark gay bar to stay open after death of owner.
Bo's Coral Reef, a Jacksonville Beach landmark and the region's oldest gay bar, will stay open even though its feisty and generous owner died this week. Roverta "Bo" Boen died of heart disease Tuesday night at Baptist Medical Center-Beaches. She was 86. David Davis, the bar's general manager, said he will keep running the club that has welcomed gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual customers, as well as straight people, since 1964. That's the way Boen would want it. Until her heart attack about five months ago, Boen was at the club seven days a week. "She opened the place and closed the place," said Davis, who met Boen when he was 15, was raised by her and worked at the club 30 years. "She was amazing." Vistitation will be 4 to 8 p.m. Monday at Hardage-Giddens Funeral Home, 1701 Beach Blvd. in Jacksonville Beach. Details on the service had not been worked out as of deadline.
Davis said Boen was gutsy but also kind, fair and generous. She welcomed everyone to her nightclub regardless of their sexual orientation and provided a sanctuary for those who may have encountered discrimination elsewhere. "It was not just about being gay or straight; it has been about welcoming everyone," Davis said. "She ... treated everyone the same." The bar at 201 Fifth Ave. N. in Jacksonville Beach is also known for its Friday and Saturday night drag shows. Those performances and the life of transgender, transsexual and female impersonators were featured in a 2007 Shorelines story. One of the performers, Christiana Sinclair, personified the club's atmosphere when she sashayed across the stage in a slinky dark blue evening gown and said, "Welcome to Bo's Coral Reef. Where some of the most beautiful women in the world just happen to be men."
Boen also had a reputation as a feisty woman who spoke her mind. During the 2001 fishing pier debate, she spoke in favor of moving the pier to its new location at Fourth Avenue North, even though she was surrounded by a standing-room-only crowd that wanted to restore the old wooden fishing pier at the old location at Sixth Avenue South. Davis said people always respected Boen for what she said, even if it wasn't what they wanted to hear. He chuckled as he recalled how she handled the crowd at City Hall. "I know you're going to boo me, but I've been booed many times before," Boen was quoted in a newspaper article. "I think the pier should be moved." That same year, Boen took the Jacksonville Beach Police Department to task for not citing several homeless men seen on the beach with a large garbage can full of rum, vodka, gin and beer stolen from her business. Mayor Fland Sharp said Boen was "very comfortable in her own skin" and that he was sorry to hear she died. "She was a fixture, boy," Sharp said. "Every time I'd see her she would kid me. I just loved her to death."
Boen moved to Jacksonville in 1950 and managed the dance hall and game room at the old fishing pier before she opened her first nightclub, Bo's Reef on Beach Boulevard, in 1964, Davis said. She later moved the lounge to Philips Highway, then opened the Crow Bar on First Street in Jacksonville Beach. She started Bo's Coral Reef at the present location in 1980. Born in Montgomery, Ala., Boen had 12 brothers and sisters. Survivors include a sister, Fay Fourman of Birmingham. Memorial contributions are suggested to the American Cancer Society at 1430 Prudential Drive, Jacksonville, FL 32207, as Boen was a breast cancer survivor.
Bo's Coral Reef was sold in 2019 and closed its doors on Tuesday evening, January 29, 2019.
Bo appears in the 1930 Federal Census of Rock Spring, Marshall County, Alabama, living on Hog Creek Road with her parents and siblings. (Her parents had married February 21, 1906 in Marshall County, Alabama, a first marriage for both.) The household, all born in Alabama, included: Franklin M. Boen, age 45, married at age 25, a farmer; Ester L., age 39, married at age 15; Johnie B., age 19; Edison, age 17; Baseal, age 14; Milton, age 13; Audrey, age 9; Roverta, age 6; Terol, age 0; and Delmar, age 11, grandson. (In the 1920 census, Delmar is age 10/12, listed as son.)
Bo appears in the 1940 Federal Census of Rock Spring, Marshall County, Alabama, living with her parents and siblings on Fairview Road. The household, all born in Alabama, included: Frank M. Boen, age 58, a farmer; Ester, age 50; Audrey B., age 19; Roberta C., age 16; Gerald A., age 10; and Nila F., age 7.
Roverta Boen appears in the Florida Divorce Index as divorcing Leland L. Attwood in January 1966 in Duval County, Florida.
She appears in Public records as living at 1808 1st Street in Neptune Beach, Florida from 1997 - 2002. Her business was located at 201 5th Avenue North in Jacksonville Beach, Florida.
Vella Mae Boen Williams Kunst
Ora Lee Bowen Mozley
Johnnie Bea Boen Harris
Edison Ray Bowen
Baskel Luther Bowen
Milton B Bowen
Delmas H Boen
Audrey Rebecca Boen McElreath
Geral Earl Boen
Fay Boen Fourman
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