Galveston’s Hidden Elite Culture
Tourists know Galveston for its beaches, but moneyed locals know there’s another side to island life. Galveston’s favorite sons include billionaires George Mitchell (who pioneered fracking) and Tilman Fertitta (founder of the Landry’s restaurant chain), as well as generations of Moodys (the family founded American National Insurance Co. and oversees the Moody Foundation, one of the country’s largest charitable organizations.) This circle has money to spend and there are plenty of places to spend it on the island.
In-the-know visitors can partake in the same posh dining and social opportunities as the isle’s well-heeled locals. Money and status talk, and visitors who have them can gain entrance to Galveston’s swanky galas, balls, clubs, year-round Mardi Gras krewe extravaganzas and experience Galveston like the well-heeled locals.
Galveston Artillery Club
On one nondescript street in a modest historical neighborhood, casual observers will see an eclectic mix of homes, ranging from stately Victorians to shabby cottages. On the corner of 31st Street and Avenue O is an unusually large fenced-in sprawling structure on multiple lots. Unremarkable other than its size and acreage, most would notice it and continue on, unaware that that building is ground zero for Galveston’s elite. The “A-Club” is an “if you have to ask what it is, you’ll never get in” kind of place. It’s so exclusive, in fact, that it doesn’t have a website. The A-Club is where chef Michael delivers sumptuous dishes to discerning diners, and where deb balls, pool parties, birthday bashes and post parties happen. On any given evening, it’s a hangout for the local in-crowd.
Shearn’s Seafood and Prime Steaks
The pyramid-themed Moody Gardens with its hotel, mini water park, indoor rainforest, aquarium and children’s activities is one of the biggest tourist draws in Galveston. When Galveston’s elite visit, though, they come not to partake in Imax movies or public swimming. They beeline to the hotel’s 9th floor, which houses what arguably is Galveston’s finest restaurant and most amazing view. Shearn’s namesake is the late Shearn Moody, Jr. Legendary for his eccentricities, Moody was known for indulgences like building a slide from his bedroom window to his pet-Penguin-filled swimming pool.
With the exception of dining out, visiting the Grand Opera House to take in a show or crossing the Causeway to go shopping in Houston, moneyed Galvestonians tend to avoid the central portion of the island and congregate on the far east and far west ends in stunning beach- or bay-front communities. Until recently, the east end of the island offered a few luxury high rises, but scant luxury detached homes. Beachtown changed that. Coastal Living magazine chose Beachtown as the site of its luxurious, amenities-packed 2008 Idea House. Beachtown is a residential development and a favorite spot for people wanting to purchase a luxurious Island getaway with a beach for a backyard and exclusive owners-only pool and boardwalk.
Galveston Convention Center
Billionaire Tilman Fertitta, owner of Landry’s Inc. and the Golden Nugget casino empire is a BOI (born on the island), which is considered a badge of honor. The buzz amongst locals is that the real reason he bankrolled an extensive renovation of the oceanfront Galveston Island Convention Center in 2011 is that if Texas ever legalizes gambling, that structure is turnkey for rapid conversion to a casino. Whether Galveston one day will return to its speakeasy roots remains to be seen. What is certain is that there’s plenty of old money to keep potential island casinos busy.