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Little bar sparks Texas copy

By Christopher Sherman

Sentinel Staff Writer

March 3, 2003

KISSIMMEE -- The Big Bamboo Lounge, a laid-back hole in the wall that inspired a cult following, is also the inspiration for a copycat watering hole in Houston.

The new bar behind home plate at the Houston Astros' Minute Maid Park will bear the name and signature Hawaiian shirts of Larry Dierker, a former Astros pitcher, broadcaster, manager and front-office member and one of the most notable patrons of the "Boo" on U.S. Highway 192.

Dierker fell in love with the memento-packed place in the shadow of Disney during annual spring-training pilgrimages with the Astros to Kissimmee. Larry's Big Bamboo, as it will be called, will open at Minute Maid Park just as the original Big Bamboo faces an uncertain future. In accordance with founder Bruce Muir's last will and testament, the Boo was to be sold four years after his death at age 79 on Feb. 25, 1999.

That deadline passed last week, but the little bar with a MASH ambulance and a flight-control tower out front remains open as family members continue to battle over its future. Whatever happens, the new Boo will live on in memory of the original.

"It's in honor of the Big Bamboo that a lot of people in Houston know about," said Jamie Hildreth, Astros vice president for broadcasting, advertising sales and promotion. Houston media covering the team frequented the bar as much as the players and made sure to mention it over the years.

Visitors to Larry's Big Bamboo will notice differences, however. Coasters won't be three sheets of toilet paper, the beer will surely cost more than a dollar and there won't be a Yogi Berra Room converted from a storage closet but dedicated by the Yankees legend, Dierker said.

"It will be impossible to duplicate that place," he said. "We wouldn't even try."

Hildreth said he doesn't think the health inspector would let them re-create what the Boo's Web site describes as "a garage sale gone awry." The Boo features an eclectic clutter including Disney name tags going back to the park's birth, the occasional undergarment, and autographed cartoons from Disney animators.

Brainstorming sessions for something relaxed and casual to fill a space in the stadium led to the Big Bamboo, said Hildreth, who was in town over the weekend to soak up the original Boo's ambience.

Dierker remains a Boo favorite, bartender Krista Edmonson said.

"I could tell you a number of stories of people who came in here because they met Larry in Houston or someplace," Edmonson said. "He's definitely had an effect here. I think it's great."

Dierker, the Astros' broadcaster at the time, started going to the bar in 1986 when the team moved its spring-training camp to Kissimmee. A friendship blossomed with Muir, a former World War II fighter pilot who opened the Boo in 1977 in a two-room cinderblock bungalow.

Larry's Big Bamboo will have a tropical theme but remain somewhat "unfinished" to encourage the kind of passive collecting that has made the Boo what it is.

While not an investor in the new venture, Dierker is scheduled to make 10 appearances there this season.

"I was very good for sales," Dierker said. "If I can recruit as many people here as I did there, we'll do all right."

The Astros' front office approached him a few months ago with the idea for a Big Bamboo west, he said.

"Most of them have been there and most realize it's on its last leg," he said.

The Boo's fate floats in the limbo of the court system. Muir left a will that reflected his loyalty to the bar and its patrons while at the same time recognizing its threatened future.

The will guaranteed the Boo's survival for four years after his death, instructing that it then be sold and the proceeds divided among his heirs. Muir's $130,000, 11/4-acre investment at U.S. 192 and State Road 535 in the heart of Osceola's tourist strip is now worth about $1 million.

A retired judge was recently appointed as the new personal representative for the estate after the original representative withdrew under pressure from the squabbling heirs.

Some Boo devotees have joined forces with one of Muir's daughters in hopes of saving the bar, whose uniqueness Dierker once expressed in the opening verse of a song.

There's a crazy little bar down in Kissimmee, hunkered down in the shadow of Walt Disney. Well I've been all around and I'm telling you, there ain't no place like the Big Bamboo.

Christopher Sherman can be reached at csherman@orlandosentinel.com or 407-931-5932.

 

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