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The Infamous Balinese Room

His tone was guarded and a bit dismissive, and told me immediately, this is not for a child. I knew right then this curious place had mystery, it sounded exotic, different. It was as though the steps to the inviting red door were calling my name and behind them were most delightful and forbidden things.




It was the way he said it. The tone in his voice so that I, a child barely old enough to walk could understand. Something felt dangerous and yet addictive as we stood there our backs to the city on the beautiful Galveston Island Seawall, waves roaring in our ears, a salty mist sticky on our faces. The unusual curve of the roof was lined in hypnotic red lights just coming on for the evening. The structure although not very wide seemed to travel forever into the ocean waters and was held up on tall poles poking above the agitated water. “Look at that Daddy,” I said pointing to the house as long as a train reaching far out into the ocean. “Oh, that’s the old Balinese Room.” His tone was guarded and a bit dismissive, and told me immediately, this is not for a child. I knew right then this curious place had mystery, it sounded exotic, different. It was as though the steps to the inviting red door were calling my name and behind them were most delightful and forbidden things.

During the 1940-1950’s the infamous Balinese dance hall and casino stood proudly on a pier stretching some 600’ from the Galveston Island Seawall out into the Gulf of Mexico. Founded by Sicilian immigrants and brothers Sam and Rosario Maceo, the private club was an elite spot that attracted the biggest names in entertainment including Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope, George Burns, The Marx Brothers and many more. Howard Hughes and Sophie Tucker as well as many wealthy oil barons were regulars at the club. Known for illegal gambling the Balinese Room was also a hub for mob activity.


In my book, He Calls Me Darlin’, Tom has tickets to take Frances to The Balinese Room to see Frank Sinatra preform. In 1948, this posh nightspot was just the right mix of sophistication tempered with an exciting illegal vibe. “Girls go crazy over Frank so I figure the crooner will get Frances all excited and I’ll close the deal in my suite at the Galvez,” Tom laughs.

Prior to Pearl Harbor December 7, 1941 the Maceo brothers called the restaurant Sui Jen (pronounced Swee Rin). In the aftermath of the Japanese attack, they decided the name had to change. In 1942 it was changed to the exotic sounding Balinese Room. In 1948 the head bartender, Santo Cruz, invented the Margarita cocktail in the club. Cruz dreamed up the drink for singer Peggy Lee, “Margarita” being the Spanish version of her name.


The illegal gambling activity at the Balinese was well known but the Maceos brothers had many friends in local government and on the police force. Most locals regarded the club as a big tourist draw so charges were never filed. That is until 1956 when Will Wilson the new Texas Attorney General set out to close down illegal casinos. Wilson employed the Texas Rangers to carry out raids on the Balinese Room. The 600’ pier walk from the seawall to the night club proved almost impervious to the art of a raid. The extended length of the pier became known a “Ranger Run.” Before law enforcement could get to the casino all the gaming tables and equipment could be quickly stored away in secret doors. When the Rangers arrived to find nothing but a restaurant, the band would strike up a lively version of The Eyes Of Texas.

After launching an undercover operation in which Texas Ranger Clint Peoples posed as a customer, he was admitted to the club and witnessed the gambling. With the damming evidence in hand, charges were levied against the club. The Balinese was forced to closed its doors on May 1957.


In 1961 Hurricane Carla damaged the structure causing many of the supporting piers to decay and wash away. In 1970’s the Balinese Room was purchased by oil tycoon Johnny Mitchell who turned the casino in to a dinner club and disco which featured many celebrities. When Mitchell passed away on 1996 the Balinese and its pier eventually became the property of the State of Texas. In 1996 Scott Arnold, a local attorney took out a 60 year lease on the property and it was used for live music performances, parties, public dining and retail shops.


The south seas interior décor survived the many changes over the decades and in fact was restored to match its 1940s appearance. The hallway of the long pier was lined with autographs and photos of past performers and memorabilia. In 1997 the Balinese Room was honored with a plaque by the Texas Historic Commission. The Texas group ZZ-Top also recorded a hit song called Balinese which was featured in the movie Dazed and Confused. The property was used for filming a scene in the movie, Night Moves.

On Friday September 12 2008, Hurricane Ike slammed into Galveston shore with waves surging higher than the seawall. The power of Ike was much more than the seventy-nine year old structure could withstand. The club was completely destroyed by the hurricane leaving only floating debris. After the storm, among the pieces collected from the Gulf was the famed red door of the infamous Balinese Room.


Infamous Balinese Room with the 600' pier know as the "Ranger Run"- Poker chip from the illegal gaming operation- Frank, Bob, Benny, all the bigs played the Balinese - Texas Rangers who took down the illegal gambling operation - ZZTop recorded a song about the Balinese Room.





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kt11347
Aug 13, 2019

Great story about the Balinese room!

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