Hilton Head staple to celebrate 30th anniversary with a time machine

dlauderdale@islandpacket.comDecember 4, 2012 

Hilton Head Island will travel back in time this weekend to an era when everyone knew your name.

Reilley's Grill and Bar on the south end of the island will celebrate its 30th anniversary all day Saturday with the original staff in original uniforms doing their original jobs, serving from the original menu, at original prices.

Things were slow in the beginning for the restaurant opened by Tom and Diane Reilley in the Gallery of Shops near Sea Pines Circle. Then someone had the idea to stage a St. Patrick's Day parade, a tiny affair that brought a lot of people to Reilley's, and both the restaurant and the parade blossomed into local institutions.

Reilley's has outlasted the popular "Cheers" sitcom that was born about the same time. The two were often compared. Reilley's opened as an Irish pub with a Boston accent. And, as in the "Cheers" theme song, everyone there knew your name.

"People sat in the same seat, and we knew exactly what they wanted to eat and drink," said Beth Cooler of Bluffton, who used to be the main greeter and has now organized the staff reunion.

"When anyone was sick, we always knew it."

Names of the regulars were etched into brass nameplates around the bar and on tables. People said you could build quite a community with those names.

Reilley's had a novelty: a wall phone at every booth in an era when the need to stay that connected was unfathomable.

The place was so full for Friday night happy hour, no one could move. A pull-tab that dictated the drink price added to the sport.

Reilley's was a family affair, and still is.

Tom Reilley came from a New England family of seven children, and six of them ended up on Hilton Head, along with their parents. And he and Diane have seven children, six on the island. Their daughter Erin is now managing partner of the south-end Reilley's, which moved to Hilton Head Plaza following a fire at the Gallery of Shops.

A second location was added on the north end in 1988. Partnerships involving the Reilleys and other couples also opened two Crazy Crab restaurants, Aunt Chiladas Easy Street Cafe, and the Boardroom. Tom and Diane's son, Thomas, is managing partner at the Boardroom; son Brendan is at Aunt Chiladas; and Tom's brother David is managing partner at the Reilley's North End Pub.

It became one of the first locally owned groups of restaurants.

The company has been a civic leader, and a Reilley's golf tournament has brought people from across the nation here to play for 30 years.

Tom Reilley is on the Heritage Classic Foundation board and runs the pro-am tournaments for the RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing.

Beth Cooler became a partner before opening her own restaurant. Other former staff members have opened restaurants around town.

That original staff was known for its esprit de corps. They split all tips evenly from the spittoon at the bar.

But most of all, they knew everybody's name.

Follow columnist David Lauderdale at twitter.com/ThatsLauderdale.

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