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Rosenberg Treasure: Vintage Pepper Mill from the Balinese Room

Vintage Pepper Mill from the Balinese Room

Rosenberg Treasure of the Month

Last Updated: September 1, 2018 by Rosenberg Library | History


During the month of September, Rosenberg Library will exhibit 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.

Balinese Pepper Mill
Balinese Room

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. 

The Treasure of the Month is located on the library’s second floor near the East Entrance.  It can be viewed during regular library hours, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through  Thursday and 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday and Saturday.  For more information, please contact the Museum Office at 409-763-8854 x. 125 or visit  their website.


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Rosenberg Library

Rosenberg Library has offered over a century of community service to the Galveston area, and is the oldest public library in Texas in continuous operation. The building itself was dedicated on June 22, 1904, the birthday of its patron, Henry Rosenberg. The Moody Memorial Wing opened in 1971, more than doubling the floor space and allowing for a children’s library, a history center, several galleries to showcase museum collections, and later, a computer lab. The Library accepted its first museum piece shortly after it opened in 1904. Since then, thousands of rare and interesting objects from around the world have been added to the collection. Each month they display a “Treasure of the Month”. Learn more by visiting the Rosenberg Library page and the Gifts of Henry Rosenberg section.

2020-01-22T15:15:39-05:00

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