The Blackwell VFW is serving up a new neon-lit future in an ice cold glass

by Charles Gerian

Bob Dylan famously sang that “the times, they are a changing.”

And for Blackwell’s Veterans of Foreign Wars Post No. 2855, that couldn’t seem to be truer.

The VFW bar, referred to by any local who frequents it as “The V,” is making big changes and looking to bring customers back.

The bar is offering “happy hour” incentives, new drink specials, snacks, a cleaner atmosphere and new faces behind the counter who are eager to make customers feel right at home.

According to bar manager and Post Vice Commander Pat McCurry, the plans seem to be working.

Business has doubled in the last month, and there doesn’t seem to be any sign of slowing down.

“The VFW is a huge part of this community,” McCurry said while sitting at the bar counter on Thursday afternoon.

It was a little past 3 p.m., and the neon glow of the bar’s signs cast multicolor waves of purple and green on McCurry’s glasses.

He smiled, giddy with a new sense of purpose and renewed energy that seemed almost infectious at the VFW on West Ferguson Avenue.

A few locals were at their unofficially assigned seats already, fresh off work and looking to cool off in the July heat.

They laughed amongst each other, swapped photos of grandchildren, and engaged in playful banter with the bartenders and McCurry, who always had a witty response.

“When Vietnam veterans like myself and many others returned, the ‘old-guard,’ if you will, at the VFW at the time took us all in with open arms,” he said. “It’s that kind of security and warmth we’re looking to recreate and extend to customers now.”

McCurry, a lifelong resident of Blackwell and a U.S. Navy veteran from the Vietnam War, said that for the VFW to survive, it had to adapt. It had to change.

In a world where every multi-million dollar casino has its own state-of-the-art bar, McCurry believes the at-home atmosphere of the VFW is what will keep people coming back, he said.

“We want to be a central point of Blackwell again,” McCurry said.

“The VFW is cleaner, friendlier, and we’re making great strides in returning this bar to back into a place that our veterans, our customers and our community can be proud of.”

The pool tables are set to be recovered in the hopes of hosting pool tournaments. Old signs and posters have been replaced. New lights illuminate the lounge area, and the carpet and bar counters have been deep-cleaned. And that’s just the beginning.

“I’ve had people within the last month or so come up to me and say how much more they’re enjoying themselves here,” McCurry said. “We’ve had a noticeable increase in customers, and we’ve had a lot of really positive feedback.”

Post Commander Cory Ingram echoed McCurry’s optimism.

“I am very excited about the future of the VFW,” Ingram said. “With new faces behind the bar comes new ideas, and new ideas bring in new people. The happy hour we’re offering allows people the chance to get off work after a long day and relax. We are also aiming to bring in live music on a monthly basis, and I firmly believe that this is the best possible time to start coming into the VFW. Our future is looking brighter than ever.”

Bartenders Traci Dewberry and Vicki Flippin, cleaning glasses and checking their inventory, said that being part of the change has been an incredible experience.

“The customers always come first,” Flippin said. “I love it here. The atmosphere has changed completely, and it’s so busy. We really hit the ground running, and it makes every day something to look forward to.”

Flippin has years of experience in bartending, and her favorite part of the job is talking with customers.

“You become a friend to these people, and you get to converse with them,” she said. “You get to know them. Some people come in once as they’re passing through, have a few drinks, and you might never see them again. Some come in regularly. And you get to connect with them all.”

Dewberry, who was hired as a “package deal” with Flippin, also has years spent in the service industry.

She agreed that her favorite part of her job is interacting with the customers.

“We treat every customer with the utmost respect,” Dewberry said. “We treat every drink order as a challenge to ourselves to get it not just 'right' or 'close,'  but 'perfect.' If they’re satisfied, we’ve done our job.”

“These girls have really changed the bar,” McCurry said. “They came in here and established a new inventory system. They make sure everything is stocked, clean and ready to go. And it’s not an easy job. I’ve seen them both stand behind that counter making drink after drink, always attentive to everyone’s orders. I know it is easy to get overwhelmed, but Vicki and Traci have gone above and beyond each time, each night, each order, for every customer.”

“We strive to make the VFW not just a fun place with a great atmosphere, but we also want to make it a safe place for customers,” Flippin said.

“We want people to come in here and not only be the best people we can be and the best at what we do, but to make the VFW a place where anyone can feel welcome. And if they don’t, they can tell us, and we will do everything in our power to change that.”

The VFW offers a happy hour from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., which includes $1 draw beer, $1.75 bottled beer and $3 bombs.

“Customers will be surprised,” Flippin said. “We have really expanded what we offer, and we’d like to think there’s something here for everyone. And if what you like isn’t here, we’ll try and get that for you.”

If a customer is looking for a specialty drink, Dewberry and Flippin said they love making Liquid Marijuanas.

“We’ve practiced just about every mixed drink we can think of,” Dewberry said. “We try, try and try again until it’s perfect. The Liquid Marijuana is a staple of just about any bar, and we’ve worked on that one a lot. It’s probably our favorite to make at this point.”

Another concoction the two enjoy is a salted caramel creation that is sure to become a fall and winter favorite.

The bar is open Tuesday through Saturday.