By Forest Riggs
It is Mardi Gras time again and, with it, come parties, parades, beads and balls. If you have lived on or visited Galveston within the past few decades, you are surely familiar with the infamous Banner Party that grew from a gathering in a private residence to the jam-packed, historic Balinese Room and beyond.
Synonymous with the Banner Party is the name Eldrege Langlinais, as it was his brainchild and baby that started 30 years ago.
Langlinais, a full-blooded Cajun and former teacher, was raised in Port Neches, Texas and is one of those individuals that come along every now and then, leaving a blazing trail in their wake. Multi-faceted, talented and full of stories, Langlinais could charm the pants off anyone—and charm you he will as you listen to his tales about gay Galveston, Houston, business adventures, The Paradise (his guest house) and his long list of accomplishments and current projects, including a Cajun cookbook coming out very soon.
At 78 and having dealt with some rough medical issues, Langlinais along with his partner of 18 years, Oscar Placker, is still hard at work overseeing multiple activities, continuing to write, develop products, design a new house in Hitchcock and look for ways to assist the LGBTQ community on the Island.
The gay old days of Galveston
His sparkling eyes light up when Langlinais talks about the “old days” when Galveston was the gay getaway and Mecca of freedom.
“It’s always been that way, you know,” he says. “People just knew they could come down here, go to the beach, party and even enjoy some same-sex dancing without the threats you faced in Houston.”
The beach was a huge draw for the mostly closeted gay population secretly thriving and meeting in Houston where, Langlinais says, police raids were common and people were arrested, ticketed and harassed for the most mundane reasons. A trip to Galveston meant freedom and an opportunity to let your hair down without being sought out and threatened.
Galveston was not perfect in those early days of the 1960s, by any means. The police were not particularly gayfriendly; however, they did seem a bit more tolerant than their Houston counterparts.
After a beach-fi lled Saturday or Sunday morning, the crowd would go over to Mexican bar on Harborside called Louisa’s. A popular straight bar during the weekend, it became a gay bar on weekends where same-sex dancing was allowed and encouraged.
Later in the evening, much like today, the crowd would move over Robert Mainor’s bar, Lafitte’s which was also in the Strand area at the time). Also in the ’60s, Betty Jean Balms opened the Kon Tiki Club (originally called The Warehouse), complete with flashing penises in the dance floor, a gay bath house and even a hotel on the third floor.
As early as the 1950s there were few gay watering holes or places that would have “gay Sundays.” Mickey’s on the Seawall (near Wendy’s now) and The Pirate Club on 21st Street were popular “sometimes” gay venues that prospered. In 1955, Robert Mainor and his partner, Bernard Wood, opened Lafitte’s—the first official gay bar in Galveston.
Over the years, the bar was housed in three different downtown locations before it landed at 25th Street and Q Avenue where it remains today.
Having totally re-located to Galveston in 1975, together with his best friend Mainor, Langlinais was already a force on the island. Then in 1995, Langlinais had an opportunity to lease bar space on the Seawall. Wary that the competition would hurt their brotherly relationship, he feared telling Mainor about his plan. When they finally did sit down to talk about it, Mainor’s response was classic. “Honey, I am happy for you. I want you to do it and be successful,” Langlinais recalls Mainor saying. “I will help you anyway I can.”
Mainor did help, starting with loaning out his top staff to assist Eldrege in getting set up and running! Eldrege is forever grateful to Robert Mainor.
The Banner Party and Pink Dolphin
When asked “Why Galveston?” Langlinais smiles and says it offers a lot to visitors and locals, as well as “a strong sense of community and home.”
It is this attitude that Langlinais has carefully woven into his various business adventures on the Island including a thriving real estate firm, an employment agency, a few incarnations of a much-loved bar and a bustling canning business known as Uncle Mary’s. Langlinais and Placker have not slowed down a bit, even when illness threw wrenches in their daily lives.
Of all his ventures, many believe the Banner Party and owning the Pink Dolphin bar are by far Langlinais’s greatest accomplishments. When they did get set up and running, Placker came up with the name The Pink Dolphin. Over the years the Dolphin relocated a few times, but always to tremendous success. Langlinais smiles when asked if the Pink Dolphin might come ashore again. “You never know,” he says. “That would be nice in the right location again, and fun.” Yes, it would be.
About 32 years ago, there was a Mardi Gras ball, gay in its make-up, called The Silk Stocking Ball. Entry fee to the ball was $125 per person. After the ball, Langlinais found his way to Lafitte’s along with the rest of gay crowd. When he asked why they were not at the Silk Stocking ball, all exclaimed that $125 was way too steep for a ball.
Bingo! The idea of a new ball or party was born. With a twinkle, Langlinais informed the crowd that “next year, there will be a party for everyone and no high entrance fee…$10 at the most.”
The following year, Langlinais hosted the party in the downstairs of his private home. In order to block the view of the neighbors seeing hot gay men dancing together, Langlinais bought felt, sequins, beads and other colorful trimmings and made huge banners to hang over the windows. The rest is history. Never raising the price, as promised, Langlinais saw the party grow to become the Mardi Gras event of the season, packing the Balinese room with a few thousand folks, complete with food and drink, music, a drag show and live singing by vocalist Jimmy Moya. The crowds grew each year, so more and more members were needed to manage the huge event.
When his health began to interfere with his ability to “run” the show, Langlinais had back away (sort of) from his baby. Due to some infighting over control and direction, the Banner Party has been absent the past few years. However, as Langlinais points out, “it’s not gone for good. I hope to see it return bigger and better than ever. There have been some serious inquiries about taking and running with it again. We shall see.” If you were fortunate enough to a attend the Banner Party or any event associated with Langlinais, especially when coupled with his close pal Robert Mainor, you have sampled some real, living history of Galveston’s LGBTQ community. Let us hope that the light that is Eldrege Langlinais will continue to shine for a long ‘time to come!
Forest Riggs, a resident of Galveston is no stranger to the adventures of life. A former educator and business owner, he enjoys Island life and all that comes with it. He says he is a “raconteur with a quixotic, gypsy spirit.” He has written for several newspapers and magazines as well as other writing pursuits, including a novel and collection of short stories.