Each year thousands of tourists and visitors descend on tiny Galveston Island and, for the most part, leave having made some wonderful new friends and memories. The sandy beaches, brown sand and all, beckon to visitors.
Tourism is a great part of the Galveston economy, and although the pandemic has put a huge dent in the number of visitors and annual crowd-drawing activities, the Island is surviving. As Christmas approached, the brick streets of the downtown area were filled with shoppers and revelers. Due to Covid-19, the annual Dickens on the Strand did not take place; however, on the first weekend of December, visitors and locals, strolling the sidewalks, we’re encouraged to wear “Dickens attire.” They were there, just not the crowds of previous numbers.
Over the weeks leading to Christmas and New Year’s, as darkness fell and the gas lamp gave their golden shimmer to the night scene, restaurants and clubs were serving fabulous meals and sweet libations. The clubs with live music and entertainment kept things buzzing along and, all in all, the atmosphere was lively and gay. (Chris Bergeron who regularly performs at Todd and Tommy’s 23rd Street Station Piano Bar, could be heard doing what he does best, at Bubba’s on the Strand). Music filled the chilly night air.
The resilient “Galveston spirit” that we so often read and hear about, has been present and sustaining during the pandemic. Though not near the crowds and patrons, clubs, bars, and restaurants are open and doing their best to provide some degree of normalcy to the community.
At 23rd Street, the ivories are being tickled, drinks served and even hottie Thomas Kokinos has returned to charm the house. At Rumors, Todd Slaughter and his gang have lighted the parking lot and added a fabulous food truck. Hot owner of the truck and chef, “Tito” works magic on Latin standards and a few new creations of his own. Neighbors around the area enjoy stopping at Tito’s truck and grabbing dinner or a late snack. Rumors continue to be a hot spot, especially on weekends when Dessie Love Blake and guests put on a hell of a show.
If there is a blue ribbon to be handed out, in my opinion, it goes to Robert’s Lafitte. A long time gay staple on the Island and certainly a fun hot spot, the little “hole in the wall” bar still packs a crowd! Robert Mainer, owner, and longtime Galveston gay patriarch is proud to fly his rainbow flags at the bar which is well-labeled as a gay bar.
Mainer says: “We are a queer bar, always have been and will be. I want people to know we are here and the flags tell them it is a safe place and all are welcome.”
Over the past year there has been some “flack” and commenting about bars not being gay, not flying rainbow flags, distancing themselves from the word “gay” and thus not representing the large LGBTQ community. For the most part, this is divisive and certainly not what a community needs, especially an active LGBTQ community. The fact is, the bars are here, they are for everyone and, each in its own way, offers something different.
Silliness and politics aside, the gay bars, labeled or not, offer a place for LGBTQ locals and gay-friendly visitors to gather and unwind. (Lord knows we have all been a little “wound” over the past several months!) On this subject, kudos to Mainer and Lafitte’s. By the way, locals now refer to the iconic queer bar, as Café Lafitte. This has a nice ring to it and skirts the crippling rules as related to the pandemic. Check out Café Lafitte!
Visitors to the Island
As mentioned, there are thousands each year and many come from far places to enjoy the sandbox in the Gulf of Mexico. Perhaps none are more welcomed or anticipated than the majestic Sandhill cranes that come to winter on the Island. The beautiful, red-crowned birds fly down from the north to enjoy the milder temperatures of the Gulf region.
Galveston is fortunate, being in the Central Flyway Zone for migratory birds, in that it gets many beautiful visitors from all over. Birders “flock” to the Island each year for Featherfest, held in mid-to-late April each year. During the week of events, naturalists and ornithologists, both professional and amateur, come to the Island to photograph, study and count the numbers. The Central Flyway Zone is busy and Galveston Island offers a nice stop for species heading farther south for Mexico, Central, and South America, as well as other warmer places.
Some species such as the grand Sandhill Cranes, stop and stay in Galveston for the winter. Cranes pair for life and can live for 20 to 30 years, each year returning to Galveston. The return of the cranes, for Galveston, is a sure sign that life goes on and some things — beautiful things — are set in stone. Birders love to catch a glimpse of photos of the great birds as they feed and play in the grasses and marshy areas. Local photographer, Alia Benavides has captured the cranes in some great shots, as well as other flora and fauna around the island.
Be it a taco, a drink, an LGBTQ watering hole with or without a rainbow flag, brick streets and gas lamps, or just a curiosity to see and experience something different, Galveston has it all.
Be safe, enjoy life, and love one another. The pandemic will pass and joy will again flourish.