This Week’s “The Best of The Sarasota Post” – The Best Bet in Cortez, FL
Ladies and gentlemen, start your crustaceans! The NASCRAB crab racing community continues to grow at the Swordfish Grill in Cortez, Florida.
It all started in 1999, when Greg Koeper was visiting a bar called Dan’s (surprisingly, owned by a man named Don) in Canton, Illinois. Greg was approached and asked for $1 to race a hermit crab. Confused, but intrigued, he got out a dollar and watched as one of the dining tables was scooted into the center of the room. A dozen-or-so hermit crabs were then set on the table and anticlimactically, Greg witnessed his very first crab race… He lost.
Did Greg have any idea that this random event would impact his career for the next 2 decades? Certainly not. He actually thought it was pretty blasé and mundane. But, he loved the idea and swore, “If I ever open a joint, I’m gonna do that and make it exciting.”
And that’s exactly what he did. A couple of years later, Grego’s Almost to The Beach Tavern in Bradenton was born. With it, the National Association of Safe Crab Racing At Bars, or “NASCRAB”. Greg’s promise to make the crab races exciting were kept. From making a specialized round-table and “Concussion Restrictor Device”, to creating “Crab-O-Vision” where they live-streamed the crab races on a big screen TV in the bar, to gaining corporate sponsors for the new sport. There’s even a hermit crab on the original Grego’s Tavern logo.
But really, what has made crab racing a bonafide Bradenton institution, is Grego himself. It was (and still is) Greg’s play-by-play announcing, hilarious commentary, and ineffable energy that make crowds both watch with bated breath and laugh with abandon. He involves the guests, and for however long it takes for a crab to reach the finish line, leans in to the joy and silliness of such an activity.
Grego’s Almost to The Beach Tavern has since closed its doors but the friendships and cult crab-racing following that started there are still flourishing. Now, Greg hosts the weekly crab races at Swordfish Grill and Tiki. When Bob Slicker took over as GM of Swordfish years ago, one of his first calls was to longtime friend Greg, asking him to consider coming out of NASCRAB retirement to bring the crab races to Swordfish. Greg now helps manage the Swordfish and, you guessed it, hasn’t lost any of his CrabMaster touch. It’s still only $1 to rent a crab, and the winner gets the money winnings and a Swordfish t-shirt.
The best crab race he’s ever seen? During the holidays, one crab actually helped provide Christmas for an entire family. When they placed a bet on a random crab for charity- you better believe it, that crab won. The winnings bought Christmas gifts for a local family who needed assistance.
Crab races are definitely a unique staple of Bradenton entertainment. Die-hard locals come weekly to bet or watch, families plan their vacation days around it, and unsuspecting dinner guests often have a similar experience as Greg’s first time witnessing a crab race. First, the confusion. Then, the intrigue. But here, there’s no shortage of excitement.
You can experience the excitement yourself, at Swordfish Grill and Tiki, every Tuesday starting at 7pm. Just be sure to get there early if you want to rent a crab and place your bets to become your own crab “jockey”. They can’t promise you’ll win, but they can promise it will be the most fun you’ve ever had with crabs.
When asked if he’s willing to offer any tips or tricks about which of his hermit crab pets are the best bet, Greg just smirks and says, “it’s the luck of the claw.”
NASCRAB Races every Tuesday at Swordfish Grill and Tiki – 7pm.
Photos from The Swordfish Grill & Tiki FB