By PAMELA CODY
Special to the PRESS
Ask any Island resident what they consider the quintessential locals bar of South Padre Island to be, and the overwhelming answer is The Coral Reef Lounge, one of the most popular watering holes on SPI. The Reef, as it’s affectionately known, celebrated its 19th anniversary on Sunday afternoon, January 25th, offering free chili with all the fixings, popcorn and dessert to all its patrons to celebrate their milestone. Jeff Crocker provided the entertainment, and the place was filled to capacity with long-time local customers and Winter Texans, all enjoying the free food, libations, lively atmosphere and great music.
Chris Kobel, the 82 year-old owner of the Reef, worked the room, greeting customers, telling jokes and making sure everyone was having a good time. Known to his friends as Ya-Ya, Kobel, a salty old dog with his trademark cap and customary cigar in hand, spoke about his establishment and its longevity. “If I knew how to run a bar, I’d go broke!” he said with a twinkle in his eye. “We have good music and super bartenders, the best on the island, and I’ve been blessed with loyal customers, they are number one. We all work together as one big family.” He spoke about his varied career, hailing from the Elgin and Naperville areas of Chicago. “I’ve had my own business for 50 years. I had a furniture store for 25 years, then I had 8 video stores. Know why? ‘Cause nobody’d hire me!” he cracked.
Colleen Beumel, Kobel’s daughter, came from Chicago a year and a half ago to take the helm as manager and said she’s enjoying having this opportunity to work alongside her father. She’s been coming to the island since spring break of 1984 and talked about what a social guy her dad’s always been. “I remember he’d come to visit me in college for parents weekend and it’d take me a week to recover!” she laughed. She also commented on the Reef’s success, saying “we really have a diverse crowd – the locals, the Winter Texans, and the service industry folks. We’re pretty busy non-stop.” Colleen also shared some interesting history about the Coral Reef. “It was originally built by 2 Las Vegas showgirls, Ollie and Rose, who ran the place. Then it was sold and briefly did business under the name Pirate’s Castle Lounge, and then did a short stint under the name Lauderdale’s.” Hearing this, Al Sularz, owner of the Island restaurant D’Pizza Joint who happened to be sitting nearby, added “See that bar stool over there? The owner of Lauderdale’s committed suicide right there at the bar.” He and Kobel have been friends for decades, and he spoke about him with obvious affection. “I’ve known Chris forever, we’re great friends, even vacation together. He’s a great business man and a great friend.” Ya-Ya then revealed at one point he briefly considered changing the name of the lounge. “I was gonna change the name to Bobo’s but it cost 500 bucks to change it, so I decided to just leave it as the Coral Reef.”
David Barnes from Port Isabel came to join the festivities and shared his opinion about the Reef’s appeal. “It’s just a good place to come and have fun,” he said, saying he’s been a customer for around 8 years. Rita Owen, a Winter Texan from Ohio, shared her feelings about the Coral Reef. “I love this place, they treat you like family. When my husband got sick and was in a wheelchair, when we’d come, they’d look after him, help him get situated and made sure he was comfortable. After my husband passed, Barbara, (Chris’s late wife) was a mother hen to me. She’d send me home with plates of food and check up on me – they were amazing.”
The Coral Reef has karaoke nightly and features live entertainment several days a week, both during the day and in the evening. No matter when you decide to visit, it’s always “Coral Reef thirty,” the Reef’s version of “it’s 5’o’clock somewhere.” The Coral Reef is located at 5401 Padre Boulevard and is open 365 days a year. For information, call (956)-761-1813 or visit their Facebook page.
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