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Summer Fun

Oh, Galveston

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Bars & Hangouts

21 With its Roaring Twenties motif, arm's-length menu of martini concoctions, and prime location, 21 is the island's new "It" girl, as it were. At the corner of 21st, hence the name, we wondered if it may also have to do with being a great place for 65-year-old men to hit on 21-year-old women. 2102 Postoffice St., 409/762-2101.

GARZA'S KON TIKI It's purple. It's very purple. They turn the disco ball on at, like, 5pm, just about the time the drag queens are peeling off that 5 o'clock shadow. 315 Tremont (23rd), 409/765-5805. www.thekontiki.com

MOLLY'S IRISH PUB With apologies to you islanders, Molly's is sort of the Dog & Duck or Draught House of Galveston. High praise, really as Molly's embodies the same casual, everybody-knows-your-name feel as those Austin treasures. With over 60 draft beers from across the planet, this is the place to see and be seen ... under a bar stool. 2013 Postoffice St., 409/763-4466. www.mollyspubs.com/galveston.html

POOP DECK Who wouldn't love a bar with a vague reference to excrement in its title? This is one of those places where you expect to run into Jimmy Buffett ... or more likely, a toothless, leather-skinned ex-leatherneck who claims to have written all of Jimmy Buffett's songs and all he has to show for it is this parrot. The deck has a life-sized Statue of Liberty and actual boat seats to swivel around on while facing a stiff Gulf gale, bellowing, "I'm king of the world!!!" and then puking all over your date. 2928 1/2 Seawall Blvd., 409/763-9151.

THE UNDERCURRENT The Seawall's best gay bar with an outdoor deck (née Boulevard Saloon) is "under" new management. The beachy new theme is the idea of bartenders and new owners Keith and Marvin, both darned friendly fellas and both capable of pouring a mean Scooby Snack. 3102 Seawall Blvd., 409/750-8571.

WOODY'S Beloved local biker-bar dive with a great deck. Inside there's a cool pool table with lots of elbow room to finagle those tricky bank shots. Sad but true: The block Woody's is on will be mowed down to make way for a chain motel by the end of this summer. The good news is that they are settling deals to re-open elsewhere on the island sometime soon thereafter. 1726 Seawall Blvd., 409/763-1616.

Live Music Venues

THE BALINESE ROOM Home to regular "players" like Old Blue Eyes, this relic from Galveston's casino heyday has been restored and gussied up to the nines. (see "Down at the Balinese") 2107 Seawall Blvd., 409/762-9696.
The <i>Elissa</i> at Texas Seaport Museum
The Elissa at Texas Seaport Museum (Photo By Kate X Messer)

GRAND 1894 OPERA HOUSE Much like Austin's beloved Paramount, Galveston's Grand is a treaure in both historic significance as well as continued commitment to the arts today. This multitiered palace with plush velvet curtains and ornate box seating is an exquisite jewel in the Strand district's crown of the island's cultural hot spots. 2020 Postoffice St., 409/763-7173.

OLD QUARTER ACOUSTIC CAFE Whispers of reverence reserved for legendary acoustic cafes like the Cactus or the Bluebird would not be wholly inappropriate for the similarly pedigreed Old Quarter in Galveston. Longtime compadre and bass player for Townes Van Zandt, Wrecks Ball mans the helm of this celebrated sanctuary of song. 413 20th St., 409/762-9199, 409/737-4915. www.oldquarteracousticcafe.com

Outdoor & Recreation

EAST BEACH Party Central. Or more precisely, Party East, as this part of Apfel Park is now the official home of some of GalTown's more ... ahem, "adult"-oriented events. See, unlike most of the island's other beaches, alcohol is allowed at East. Truly, on most days it's totally family-friendly; you may just wish to check the city's schedule to see if there's a wild and randy beach party on the calendar. But really, don't let the fiestas stop you from checking out this glorious point, defined by the ship channel to the east and the Gulf to the south, and its expanse of wide, firmly packed sand. In fact, coming up on Saturday, June 5, is the AIA Sandcastle Competition. That's "AIA," as in American Institute of Architects. Boddeker Drive, 409/762-3278.

GALVESTON ISLAND STATE PARK Over 2,000 acres of protected wetlands, marsh, and coastal plain make up this last vestige of natural beach out on the island. Occupying a choice slice of Galveston's western end, the park is ideal for camping, birding, fishing, and simply absorbing the best of the Texas gulf coast region. 14901 FM 3005, 409/737-1222.

ISLAND BOWL Locals enjoy this old-school 10-pin alley with the requisite cocktail bar and greasy spoon. We bet they wouldn't mind you slipping on a pair of rentals and rolling a few while you're in town. 3424 Seawall Blvd., 409/763-0655.

MOODY GARDENS The triple pyramids of this man-made nature park herald the three eco-themes: The Rainforest; the Aquarium; and the Discovery Pyramid. The park features a Ridefilm Theater, an IMAX, and a convention center and hotel with over 400 rooms. 1 Hope Blvd., 800/582-4673. www.moodygardens.com

STEWART BEACH Like so many old-school east coast beaches, this east-Seawall family-friendly fun spot is packed with cool things like minigolf, snack bar, pavillion, volleyball courts, kids playground, a human-sized maze, and more. Of course, if that's not enough to keep you busy, there's always the beach. Many annual parties, both public and private, enjoy their anniversaries here! Sixth St. on the Seawall, 409/765-5023.

Accommodations

THE COMMODORE ON THE BEACH The sultry S-curve of this classic beachfront beauty allures guests in from the Seawall. The amazing, friendly staff and ample, well-kept rooms keep them coming back. The Commodore has over 90 guest rooms, all of which have large picture windows and individual balconies that face the Gulf. They've recently reoriented and renovated the front desk area, expanding gulf-view seating for guests who come to start their day with the complimentary continental breakfast. Because of the curved nature of the property, the rooms seem quite private and are a bit larger than those of your typical midrange hotel. The palm- and hibiscus-lined tropical privacy hedge and streetside wall make luxuriating by the pool a pleasure, as the Gulf remains visible while the noise from the Seawall is obscured. The Commodore boasts the best views of Galveston's Fourth of July fireworks, so early reservations are recommended. 37th on the Seawall, 800/231-9921, 409/763-2375. www.commodoreonthebeach.com

FLAGSHIP HOTEL They call the rooms here "cabins," as the darned thing sits 1,000 feet out to sea, right over the Gulf. No kidding. Seven stories of concrete hover on one of the Seawall's most popular piers – known almost as much for its fancy elevated freshwater pool and prime fishing and surfing conditions, as it is for its inn atop the waves. The current flap regarding this aging G'town landmark, however, is over local tycoon (Landry's kingpin) Tilman Fertitta's plans to renovate and overhaul the hotel's pier and turn it into an amusement park, much to the chagrin of locals who adore its prime fishing and funky vibe. There's no telling how long the Flagship will brave the waves in her current incarnation. In the meanwhile, guest rooms – errr, cabins have either eastern or western exposure, so take your pick: sunrise or sunset? 2501 Seawall Blvd., 409/762-9000.

The Tremont House
The Tremont House (Photo By Kate X Messer)

HARBOR HOUSE AT PIER 21 Any of the 42 nautical-themed rooms and suites in this dockside inn will serve as the perfect launching port for your Galveston adventure. Housed in an old steamship terminal, it's the perfect place to witness the workings of a modern port today while dreaming of seaside mysteries of yesteryear. Pier 21, No. 28, 800/874-3721, 409/763-3321. www.harborhousepier21.com

HOTEL GALVEZ The "Queen of the Gulf," this 236-room shrine to Victorian hospitality, enjoys a special place in the heart and landscape of this island city (see "Still standing"). 2024 Seawall Blvd., 409/765-7721. www.galveston.com/accom/galvez.html

THE MERMAID & DOLPHIN This sparkling white palace was once the Texas Governor's summer home. It now houses one of the island's coolest B&Bs, featuring eight elegant suites, lush tropical gardens, and a variety of spa packages. 1103 33rd, 409/762-1561. www.mermaidanddolphin.com

THE QUEEN ANNE BED & BREAKFAST Impeccable and more than worthy of her royal moniker, this luxurious bed & breakfast, housed in a turn-of-the-century manse, is within walking distance of the Strand and the burgeoning East End scene. Special packages are worth a gander, so check the Web site, and ask about their Afternoon Teas. 1915 Sealy, 409/763-7088, 800/472-0930. www.galvestonqueenanne.com

THE SANDPIPER Ahhhhh, harken back to the days of the ol' motor court, but instead of the dizzying drone of highway traffic, you can be lulled to sleep by the sounds of waves lapping and the seagull's "caw!". This affordable, offbeat inn is Galveston's only respite right on the sand. Plus, it's adjacent to Stewart Beach and close to the action at East Beach. Sandpiper is also a Hostelling International hostel, with certain rooms offering multibed setups and special rates. 201 Seawall Blvd. at Ferry Road, 409/765-9431. www.sandpipermotel.com

STACIA-LEIGH The fateful tale of the Stacia-Leigh B&B is a sad one indeed. After surviving her previous life as the yacht of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, her new life as a world-class B&B was ended abruptly this past April when she sank in her moorings on Galveston Harbor. All's we can say is Davy Jones is in the lap of luxury right now, and the rest of us are stuck here on dry land. (see "Tale of a fateful ship") Pier 22 at Fisherman's Wharf, 409/750-8858. www.stacia-leigh.com

THE TREMONT HOUSE If the edifice, a blindingly glorious ode to Victorian architecture, is not enough, the four-story, glass-ceilinged atrium of the hotel's lobby surely will leave an impression deep enough to insure repeat visitors. Sister property to the Seawall's Hotel Galvez, it's clear that style and splendor run in this family. 2300 Ship's Mechanic Row, 409/763-0300, 800-WYNDHAM. www.galveston.com/thetremonthouse/

Historic Attractions

ASHTON VILLA Delight in the utter lavish decadence of turn-of-last-century Galveston's upper crust with a tour of one of Mansion Row's oldest surviving manors. This brick Italianate wonder survived the Great Storm of 1900 as did her mistress, the world-wandering bon vivant Ms. Bettie Brown–a scandalous Galveston babe of such outrageous character (and fortune) that her paintings of amorous cupids and ladies' ankles were the talk – and the shock – of the day. 2328 Broadway, 409/765-7834.
The Ocean Grill
The Ocean Grill (Photo By Kate X Messer)

GALVESTON HISTORICAL FOUNDATION Like we said, the majority of cool things to do on the island city involves its rich, harrowing history. So what better place to start than the locus of all that came before? The GHF is the umbrella group for a number of museums and attractions, including the county's historical museum at 2219 Market, and is Texas' oldest historic preservation society and the second largest in the United States. A trip to their Web site before your trip to the island is highly recommended. 502 20th, 409/765-7834. www.galvestonhistory.org

THE GREAT STORM It is impossible to understand Galveston without understanding the utter devastation wreaked upon her in the deadliest natural disaster in U.S. history. This achingly poignant 27-minute documentary was culled from actual eyewitness accounts of the horror that fateful night in September of 1900 and does a fine job of conveying the town's obstinate optimism about rebuilding in the face of harrowing odds. In between showings, the theatre also runs a short, engaging film, The Pirate Island of Jean Lafitte, about the rogue privateer whose presence on the island in the early 19th century is still felt today. Pier 21 Theatre at Harborside Drive, 409/763-8808.

HARBOUR TOURS Let the salt kiss your whiskers on a tour of Galveston's waterways aboard the Seagull II. The island's simple beauty and ecological vulnerability are evident from this particular vantage point, as is the unique perspective as you float past mammoth tankers and passenger cruiseships heading out to the Gulf from this working port. Pier 21, No. 8, 409/763-1877.

MOODY MANSION Galveston's Buckingham Palace, if you will, where the Moodys, the island's cotton royalty, ruled with a benevolence that is still enjoyed today. A multimedia preshow complements tours offered by eager and knowledgable docents. 2618 Broadway, 409/762-7668. www.moodymansion.org

RAILROAD MUSEUM Ride the rails back in time to this tribute to trains. Housed in the stunning Shearn Moody Plaza, a majestic 10-story art deco wonder at the west end of the Strand, the museum is home to a collection of over 20,000 train-related items, as well as the gloriously restored, original palatial passenger terminal, where visitors can "listen in" on life in the 1930s on old telephone receivers. 25th & the Strand, 409/765-5700. www.tamug.tamu.edu/rrmuseum/

ROSENBERG LIBRARY The oldest continuously operational public library in Texas and home of the Galveston and Texas History Center, the Rosenberg is worth a visit – not only for its grand architecture and jolly statue of the seated benefactor for whom it is named, but also for the treasure trove of collections and arcana to be had within. 2310 Sealy, 409/763-8854. www.rosenberg-library.org

SEAWOLF PARK To the north of the harbor, across a bridge to Pelican Island, Seawolf Park is home to some fascinating relics: The USS Cavalla, a retired WWII sub; the USS Stewart, a retired Destroyer Escort; and the wreckage of a 421-foot concrete ship named the Selma, built in 1917-18, which hit a jetty in Tampico on her maiden voyage and now rests in her permanent home as a man-made reef next to the ship channel. Seawolf Parkway, Pelican Island, 409/744-5738. www.cavalla.org/park.html

Summer Fun
Photo By Kate X Messer

TEXAS SEAPORT MUSEUM If we haven't mentioned it before, one of the greatest things about most of Galveston's attractions is that, for the most part, they are not simply tourist bait. The coolest stuff to see on the island has some sort of tangible connection to the island's history or culture. The Seaport Museum is no exception. Conveniently located in the bustling Pier 21 mall, under the shadow of the port's burgeoning cruise ship industry, the museum is run by the Galveston Historical Foundation. Exhibits explore exciting facets of life on the sea that have shaped the nature of life on the island. These are also the fine folk who maintain the museum's one-of-a-kind, mind-boggling database of immigrants who came through this "Ellis Island of the South," as well as oversee the tall ship Elissa, docked right across the entrance. Pier 21, No. 8, 409/763-1877. www.tsm-elissa.org

Casual Dining & Take-Out

BOB'S GROCERY STORE This corner neighborhood grocery store offers not only a great imported beer selection, but also the pleasurable company of proprietor "Bob," who can usually be found chatting up the customers on the premises. 509 21st, 409/762-2898.

DUTCH KETTLE Galveston's 24-hour diner boasts a cornucopia of late-night and crack-of-dawn culture, whose only rival is the menu for strange recombinant possibilities (e.g., old fishermen and young punkettes vs. shrimp and waffles). Think: Jim's on the Beach or Star Seeds with faded tattoos. 3600 Seawall Blvd., 409/765-6761.

MACEO SPICE & IMPORT CO. If you're lucky, you might get to shake the hand of Rosario Maceo himself, the patriarch of this branch of the Maceo family. Revel in the dizzying aromas of spices from around the planet and around the town, pick up some imported Italian sweets, a jar of the Maceo's own tremendous Tomato Gravy, or treat yourself to a homemade Muffaletta – the Maceo's claim to the famous sandwich is that as a boy, Rosario used to help his Uncle Tony, the inventor, sell his concoction in the French Quarter. If that's too much history, try their deliciously generous pork on a bun, served two-up: one to eat and one to share (or save for later). 2501 Market, 800/887-8824. www.maceospice.com

MOSQUITO CAFE Regulars joke that this cool little neighborhood bistro was one of the first in Galveston to succeed without the aid of a deep fryer. But just because their menu – featuring fresh fare with names like Killer Chicken and Kahuna Tuna – leans toward the green and healthy doesn't mean it doesn't also cater to those in need of a comfort food fix. Those folk will simply have to settle for some delectable melted brie in place of frozen cheese poppers. 628 14th St., 409/763-1010.

THE OCEAN GRILL Nothing like looking down while eating breakfast and seeing a rush of waves coming into shore under your feet. That's only part of the experience at this pleasant, midrange restaurant out on a pier over the gulf. The other part involves fast, friendly service and great food, including an extensive grilled seafood menu and, on the weekends, a terrific breakfast. Relative to similar menus on the island, it's a bit pricey, but the view makes it worth the few extra clamshells. Just please do not feed the seagulls, lest you encourage a tide of feathers of Hitchcockian proportions. 2227 Seawall Blvd., 409/762-7100. www.galveston.com/oceangrill

QUEEN'S BBQ The finely smoked meats of family-owned Queen's have been tempting hungry G'tonians for over 25 years – and satisfying them, too. They were voted the best by the readers of the Galveston County Daily News (Texas' first newspaper!). 35th and Avenue S, 409/762-3151. www.galveston.com/queensbbq/

SAFARI BEACH CO. BAR AND DELI Dine on the porch and soak in the majesty of the sea, or simply watch the parade of passersby along the Seawall while delighting in the Safari's specialties: incredible muffalettas and $1 Bloody Marys on Sunday! The thatched and bambooed interior is a fine respite should the Bloody Marys not counteract the sunlight quickly enough. 910 Avenue M on the Seawall, 409/762-1420.

Summer Fun
Photo By Kate X Messer

SHRIMP & STUFF Hugely popular with families and locals, this fried-fish haven has beach casual down to an art. And the food? Well, the sizzling batter-coating, fresh out of the basket, only hints at the deep-sea delights within. 3901 Avenue O, 409/763-2805.

THE SPOT AT GALVESTON This classic beachfront joint features family-friendly fare at wallet-friendly prices: pizza by the pie or slice, burgers, taters, salad bar, Blue Bell ice cream, and some fantastic baked goods. OMG! The key lime pie is TDF! 3204 Seawall Blvd., 409/621-5237.

YAGA'S CAFE AND BAR Connected somehow to the once Galveston-based Yaga sportswear empire (which bid a hasty retreat and hustled out to Cali in the late Nineties), this bar and casual/fine dining hot spot boasts the same Jamaican feel, with a schizophrenic menu of more than decent Caribbean-, Cajun-, and Mexican-tinged cuisine, plus live music Thursday through Saturday. 2314 Strand, 409/762-6676.

Bakery & Coffeehouse

MOD COFFEE AND TEA HOUSE Oh, Mod, Part 2. Weary traveller wanders into a streamlined Mod haus. Asks for directions and an Italian soda: raspberry and something else ... kiwi, passion? Is given them along with a smile. Buys funny card. Sits and watches the future of the island: studious, diverse, scruffy, happy. Smiles back. Finds where she's going and remembers where she's been. 2126 Postoffice St., 409/765-5659. www.modcoffee.com

THE PHOENIX Rising up from the ashes (or in this case, tidal surge), Galveston certainly is the "phoenix" of the Gulf Coast. Part of the Landry's empire, this particular Phoenix features strong coffee and great French pastries, including those pillowy pockets known as beignets. 221 Tremont, 409/763-4611.

SUNFLOWER BAKERY Too many varieties (as if there could be such a thing!) of fabulous fresh-baked breads, real deli meats, original sandwiches with a light touch, and baked goods that'll make you swoon make this a must-visit on your seaside adventure. 1527 Church St., 409/763.5500.

Fine Dining

BERNARDO'S The Hotel Galvez's in-house restaurant, Bernardo's hosts a fanciful Sunday brunch replete with elegant formal table settings and courtly waitstaff. Gulf-view seating in the sunlit Veranda alone is worth the trip. But of course, the real treat is the cuisine. Breakfast items include eggs Benedict, scrumptious omelettes and waffles to order, and mimosas. Luncheon selections offer fresh fish, a prime-rib carving station, and more mimosas. And after a few rounds of those sparkly citrus wake-up calls, the epiphany sets in that this restaurant is named for the same Spanish colonial guv who charted the island but never set foot on it and for whom both the hotel and the city are named: Bernardo de Gálvez. 2024 Seawall Blvd., 409/765.7721.

RUDY & PACO "Que rico, sabroso!" Friendly restaurateur Paco Vargas is the type of dining don who likes to mingle and make sure his guests are comfortable. It's just one of the things that makes his tony seafood and South/Central American empire so popular. The service here is high art as waitrons emerge at once with an entire table's entrées, encircling the guests en masse and delivering the goods simultaneously. We bet the kitchen staff observes a similar clockwork, producing some of the finest lump crabmeat and shrimp al ajillo dishes to come out of the sea. Reservations are recommended. 2028 Postoffice St., 409/762-3696. www.galveston.com/rudypaco

SKY BAR & RESTAURANT With an impressive interior that is sooooo SoBe (check out the back room's gorgeous starlite dome), this recent Strand-area addition adds a bit of sass and class to Galveston's dining scene. World-class sushi and grilled Japanese specialities with an island-regional twist highlight a menu that is earning raves from locals and travellers alike. The Miso Cod, an incredible fish dish featuring generous hunks of carmelized cod on a nest of crispy rice noodles, is heaven on a chopstick. And for a real kick, ask one of the friendly 'tenders to take a shake at one of their nice, stiff Saketinis. We found the lemongrass version to be harrowingly addictive. 2107 Postoffice St., 409/621-4759. www.skybargalveston.com

Retail & Services

GALVESTON BOOKSHOP Wander in and get lost in the stacks. But set your watch, 'cos this amply stocked book emporium of over 70,000 titles will have you lost in pages and lost in time. 317 23rd, 877/750-8200, 409/750-8200.

ISLAND MUSIC The musician's best friend on the island, this full-service music boutique deals in vintage and new, including well-known names like Alvarez, Ampeg, AudioTechnica, Boss, Crate, Dimarzio, Epiphone, Fostex, Gibson, Ovation, Pearl, Peavey, Shure, and more. 2401 45th, 409/763-6197.

SUNSET STUDIOS The perfect souvenir of your Galveston journey: a picture of you, shot by Lynda at Sunset Studios. Her shop is right over the Gulf on the pier that leads to the Balinese. 2107 Seawall Blvd., 409/770-9324.

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