Past Treasure of the Month – September 2018
During the month of September, Rosenberg Library exhibited a pepper mill from the legendary Galveston nightclub, the Balinese Room. This ca. 1950 souvenir was recently donated to the Library by Louise Hagood.
The Sin City of the Southwest
During the first half of the 20th century, Galveston was considered by many to be the “Sin City of the Southwest.” Bootlegging and gambling were lucrative industries on the island from the 1920s through the 1950s.
Although gambling was illegal in the state of Texas, Galveston had an “open city” policy, and for the most part, casinos were tolerated by local law enforcement officials. Several island establishments—including the Balinese Room—offered cocktails, gambling, and live music. Some of America’s most popular entertainers including Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee, and Bob Hope performed in Galveston clubs.
The Balinese Room
In 1923, brothers Sam and Rosario Maceo opened the Chop Suey, a restaurant and gambling parlor along Galveston’s beachfront. Built on a pier overlooking the Gulf of Mexico, the Chop Suey (later called the Grotto) was located at 21st Street and Seawall Boulevard. In 1932, the facility was remodeled as an oriental café and night club, and its name was changed to the Sui Jen (pronounced “swee ren”). It was another chic venue for gambling and live music, and famous American performers were booked there regularly.
The Sui Jen was completely remodeled and renamed the Balinese Room in 1942. The Balinese Room was a restaurant and nightclub with a South Seas-inspired décor. Its interior design featured bamboo and reed wall coverings, neon and copper palm trees, and colorful murals.
The End of an Era
Things began to change in Galveston when Will Wilson became State Attorney General in the late 1950s. Determined to stop illegal gambling in Galveston, Wilson sent undercover agents into bars, nightclubs, and casinos to monitor the illegal activities that were taking place in the city. Dozens of island establishments, including the Balinese Room, were closed permanently.
The Balinese Room was later revived, as a bar and entertainment venue, but the historic structure was no match for Hurricane Ike, which crashed into Galveston September 13, 2008. The building was completely destroyed by the storm.