The Galveston Seawall was always a little raunchy, but we were still sorry to see the Balinese Room and its pier vanish in Hurricane Ike on the evening of September 13, 2008. We used to walk from the nearby USS Flagship Hotel on Pleasure Pier (also wrecked) and guzzle on the Margaritas, supposedly invented here in 1948 by the bartender Santos Cruz for the visiting Peggy Lee (and named after her).
Opened in 1942 by the mobbed-up, bootlegging Maceo Brothers, Sam and Rosario, the club featured Sicilian food, exotic drinks, illegal gambling, and entertainment as varied and famous as Frank Sinatra, Burns and Allen, and the Marx Brothers. My jitterbugging mother-in-law Louvelle never missed a chance to strut her stuff on the big-band dance floor here.
The well-connected club gave rise to one of the great excuses of all time, when the Sheriff of Galveston County explained to a committee of the Texas Legislature that he couldn’t shut down the notorious venue because he wasn’t a member and therefore couldn’t get in. Sixty-four consecutive nights of Keystone-Cop raids by the Texas Rangers failed to find a single incriminating chip, but in 1957, when the authorities finally figured out the scam, they tossed chips, machines, and tables over the rails into the surf. And with them, washed away one of the more colorful pieces of Texan history.
Galveston remains a favorite spot for seafood and drinks, but it will never be the same. No doubt, visitors said the same thing after the 1900 Galveston Hurricane that caused even greater havoc. Yet the locals just seem to pick up and move onward into the future.