Everyone in Jacksonville, at least those of considered to be of age, has at least heard of the famous crab races that take place every Thursday night at Don’s Place. Some people who’ve only visited Jacksonville a handful of times, like my suburban-born college roommates for instance, have not only heard of but actually participated in Don’s weekly crab races. It’s a Don’s Place tradition, which makes it a Jacksonville tradition, and now that the calendars have flipped over to 2016, it’s a tradition that celebrates its 30th anniversary.
“I had a partner that left and moved to Denver, Colorado, and he ran across the idea out there and came back and taught me and I thought I’d try it and see how well it worked,” said Dan Kindred, owner of Don’s Place. “It’s always been on Thursday nights and it’s always been a weekly event.”
Whether you’re a weekly contestant or a first-timer, Don’s would like to invite everyone (21 years or older) to help celebrate 30 years of crab racing on Thursday, January 21, from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m. Patrons are welcome to show up as early as they’d like to allow more time for refreshments, scouting the speediest crab and organizing a plan of attack. There is no charge for those who would like to participate, all one must do is notify the staff of their interest and the crabs will be randomly distributed. Each crab will be assigned a number which will then be announced prior to the beginning of each race. Typically, the top two or three winners from each race will get to advance to the next round. Aside from earning city-wide acclaim, there will a number of prizes handed out to that night’s winners.
“The crab races are what put on us the map basically,” Kindred said of the weekly event. “I had the business for three years and we’d been struggling, then we started having the crab races and all of a sudden people, even people from all over, started coming out. When it was real popular I had people coming up from St. Louis, groups coming out from Springfield, and naturally if there was someone from out of town, like from one of the factories, a lot of them would come into town Wednesday night and then stay for Thursday and go for the crab races.”
For much of Jacksonville, especially my close group of friends, the fun, easy-going atmosphere of Don’s Place has made it a favorite weekend destination. And as for the crab races, they are a big part of what makes Don’s a unique and exciting establishment. So what started as a quirky event some three decades ago has now become lasting trademark.