Streater's Place

& The KGBC Roach Racing Championship

By Kimber Fountain

Galveston history tends to be conveyed as a genteel undertaking, with retrospective images of floor-length gowns, intricate architecture, and very serious businessmen whose tenacity and diligence transformed the island into an international port of commerce in the 19th Century. The journey through Galveston’s significant transformation since then has been often overlooked, perhaps because the generational proximity to it skews its importance. But as time marches on, modern history becomes just history—even if it involves cockroaches.

In 1958, John H. Streater opened a bar on the corner of 14th Street and Winnie in Galveston’s East End Historic District. Called Streater’s Place, it quickly gained momentum and popularity with locals and especially with students at the University of Texas Medical Branch located a few blocks away. Just shy of the bar’s 20th anniversary, Streater put the property and the business up for sale in 1977.

After more than a year on the market, it was purchased by John Yeskewicz in 1978 who decided to keep the name due to its recognition and salability. Around this time, the student population of Texas A&M Galveston was growing such that it too became a sizeable contribution to Streater’s college crowd.

Related, that same year another neighborhood bar called O’Malley’s at 8th and Church became host to the first annual KGBC O’Malley’s Cup Roach Racing Championship, created and sponsored by the local Galveston radio station. The first year’s winner, UTMB student Polly Clafford, was announced on the CBS Evening News by Walter Cronkite.



Yeskewicz took over the roach race hosting duties in 1979 after O’Malley’s unexpectedly closed, but soon after, he temporarily shut down Streater’s with the intention of remodeling.

Placeholder image“I was just out of the Marine Corps,” remembers Keith “Buddy” Guindon, owner of Katie’s Seafood. “I was working at my father’s gas station, and one of his friends came by. He started complaining that he had bought this historic bar and was going to remodel it but now he was trying to sell it.”

Buddy recalls how, fearing his father’s disapproval, he snuck over to the property that evening after work to speak with Yeskewicz. The bar was a mess. It had been completely gutted; even the historic, carved bar-top had been tossed.

“I asked him, ‘How much do you want for the place?’ He looked over across the room and said, ‘Well, I paid $400 for that pool table.’ So I said, “How about $400 then?” laughs Buddy. “And he agreed.”

Over the next three months, Guindon and a few friends remodeled the bar themselves. In addition to rebuilding the inside, they re-covered the exterior in cypress. “Those are still my hand-pounded nails in that building,” he says.

Keith also decided to keep the name, explaining, “It was already a great local bar. John Streater had really created a great relationship with local people, and that would continue.” Most importantly, Streater’s was open in time for the 3rd annual cockroach races.

According to the Galveston Daily News on February 29, 1980, the 3rd contest was especially notable because it marked the debut of the O’Malley’s Cup Trophy. (Streater’s and KGBC kept the original name of the event as an homage to the first host.)

It was donated by Dan Holitske’s Gulf Coast Trophies in Texas City and would remain permanently at Streater’s with the name of each year’s champion engraved on it. Smaller plaques for the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place winners to take home were also donated.



More than merely a grotesque spectacle, the roach races were a charitable fundraiser. In addition to the entry fees, proceeds from the sale of “Roach Race” t-shirts were donated to local non-profit organizations including the old Lasker Children’s Home.

It was also a roaring good time. Every year, the number of people and participants grew. By 1982, it had already swelled to attract a crowd of 400 and nearly 75 entries.

Throngs of people would gather to cheer and place bets around the cockroach “racetrack,” a large piece of plywood with a dot in the center and two circles painted on it. A small circle painted around the dot was the starting line, and a larger concentric circle 1-yard in diameter was the finish line.

The cockroaches were given outlandish and humorous names like Sewer Sammy, Smokestack Lightning, and Blue Eyes. Some names were too scandalous for print, others were named after famous persons or reflected social commentary.

On race day, “trainers” would mark their roaches with water-based paint and place them in a large cup which was then placed upside down on the plywood near the dot. Upon a signal, the cups would be lifted, and the roaches were off to the races. The first roach to make it out of the larger circle was declared the winner.

Competing tournament style, roaches and trainers would participate in various heats, the winners of which would race against each other until a champion was declared. In addition to the plaques, winners would be awarded prizes like cases of beer and concert tickets.

Guindon owned Streater’s for nearly two decades and continued the roach races throughout that time. He closed the bar in 1995, and the building was purchased in 1997 by Jack Parker and Jerry Blair. They were awed by the number of mosquitoes on Galveston Island and wanted to name their new restaurant in tribute of the pervasive pests.

“At first they wanted to name it Skeeters to keep it similar to Streater’s,” he recalls. “But eventually they settled on Mosquito Café.”

The popular east-end eatery, open since 1999, has become nearly as iconic as Buddy’s current enterprise Katie’s Seafood. Named after his wife, the fresh fish house opened in 1996 on Pier 19 and recently added a sister restaurant next door at Pier 20.

Although the cockroach races were certainly a highlight of his bar owner days, Buddy Guindon attests that the memories are abundant. “Texas A&M college students did their homework at Streater’s. It was a ‘home’ for many locals,” he says.

However, Buddy insists that by far the most important thing that happened at Streater’s occurred in October of 1988. “She was wearing a yellow-plaid checkered shirt,” he recalls. Her name was Katie.