Last call for the Big Bamboo?
Date: Friday, June 14th @ 15:26
Topic: News

 

By Sylvia L. Oliande
News-Gazette Staff Writer

Only the very brave don't have that moment of hesitation when they see the Big Bamboo Lounge for the very first time.

The dark entryway of the doctor's house-turned-bar is set well off busy U.S. Highway 192 near State Road 535. The dimly lit dirt parking lot – dubbed Lake Bamboo for the flooding that comes when it rains –holds an abandoned military truck and dilapidated observation tower.

Is that a downed airplane sticking out of the brush?

But it came highly recommended. Everyone in the tourism industry knows about it — "You gotta go to The Boo!" It couldn't be that bad.

Those who eventually stick their heads inside the 25-year-old bar are usually greeted by regulars with, "Come on in. We won't bite." Someone may even offer to buy a newcomer a "Big Bamboo," the bar's deliciously potent signature drink, a rum concoction whose recipe is a closely guarded secret.

As the Bamboo bar manager puts it, "It's a neighborhood bar in the middle of tourism central."

But the mood inside The Boo has been a bit subdued lately as word is spreading that sometime, possibly soon and probably before the year is out, the bar will close. The original owner died more than three years ago and he stipulated in his will that the bar should be sold by the fourth anniversary of this death, February 2003.

‘A piece of Kissimmee history’

Rumors abound: It's going to be a gas station, it's going to be a convenience store. No one really knows. It hasn't even been officially placed on the market.

The Bamboo sits on prime real estate and has had quite a few lucrative offers over the years.

"This is a piece of Kissimmee history that cannot be replaced," said John Kerr, a 10-year regular and the bar's sometime handyman who launched an unofficial Web site for the bar. "This place was out here when there was nothing on 192. When you take something like this out of a community, it's irreplaceable. It really is. Everything around here is so commercial."

There is little at the Big Bamboo that can be called commercial.

There are no pay phones — those desperate to make a call have to make a case for a cell phone from a fellow patron.

Forget American Express; Visa isn't welcome there and neither is any other credit card.

Need a coaster? Grab a square of toilet paper from the bartender.

If you're looking for a game of pool, darts or pinball, go somewhere else.

In the mood for some no-hassle conversation in a place where strangers quickly become friends, then family? You're in the right place.

Bruce Muir, a World War II fighter pilot, opened his bar in 1977, and modeled it after those he encountered on his travels through the South Pacific.

The Big Bamboo Lounge's early patrons were the construction workers and Disney executives who were creating a fantasy world just a few miles away.

Cast members took over when Disney housed students from its new college and international programs just down the road at what was then Snow White's Village — now the KOA campground.

It quickly became a place for the industry to relax and unwind, to reconnect with something real and get away from the tourists.

That's not to say tourists weren't welcome; many arrive at the doorstep at the recommendation of their hotel's bartender who was likely going to make a stop there after his shift ended.

A home away

from home

Over the decades, theme park employees, hotel and restaurant workers and even several Houston Astros players down for spring training made the bar their home away from home. When they left for parts across the globe, they littered the walls and ceilings with thousands of name tags, ball caps and mementos, interspersed with newspaper clips and photographs from the last two decades.

Never mind that everything is covered with a layer of dust and cobwebs; to patrons the objects d'tourism are treasures that tell a story about how the town grew from ranch and orchard country to a vacation mecca.

Uniforms from various theme parks are nailed to the ceiling, a deflated Mylar balloon from the opening of Euro Disney (now Disneyland Paris) hangs in a doorway. A nice, clean hand-drawn copy of Stitch, the main character in Disney's latest animated feature, hangs on a wall, still too new to have been dulled by the elements.

The tiny hot air balloon hanging from the ceiling was crafted by longtime regular "Fireman" Bill Kaman, from a piece of a balloon Muir hired to give pals a ride to celebrate the bar owner's birthday. One of the ceiling fans turning slowly near the bar is painted to look like a propeller of Muir's war plane, a gift from some of the customers to Muir.

Like the old adage about not washing an old car because the dust and rust are the only things holding it together, regulars joke that the flotsam and jetsam is what's keeping the old place upright.

Corky Foncannon, a 64-year-old secretary for Disney resorts, has been coming to the Boo for more than 20 years, ever since she and her construction worker husband moved to Florida to help build the Walt Disney World theme parks.

She and her 91-year-old mother, another Boo regular, came for the big band music and stayed for the camaraderie, even when the old house began showing a bit of wear and tear.

"This is probably the only place where you don't expect air conditioning, you do expect the roof to leak when it rains and you still come," she said.

The rumors that the bar's days were limited began soon after Muir died in February 1999. He was 79.

In his will, which had been in probate when his three children contested it, but is now closed, Muir wrote that if the income from the bar is "steady or increasing," his widow should continue to operate for another two years.

However, "regardless of the income from said business," it goes on, "if it has not been sold at the end of two years, I direct that it be sold for its fair market value at the end of four years from the date of my death."

Kissimmee attorney Murray Overstreet is a longtime friend and bar patron and executor of Muir's will.

He said it will be up to Muir's third wife, Glenda Muir, and daughters Nancy Duggan of Michigan and Mary Leigh Maentz of Louisiana to decide if and when to sell the property.

Muir's son, Scot Muir (also known as Bruce Jr.), has since died. Efforts to reach the women through their attorneys were unsuccessful.

Overstreet said it would be tough to avoid selling the nearly 1.6-acre property because of the stipulation in the will, although one party may be able to buy out the others. He said the women are discussing the situation but as of yet the property, which is assessed by Osceola County at more than $870,800, hasn't been put on the market.

"I'm sure they have not made that step," he said.

‘He knew what the land was worth’

Overstreet, who has been a regular since the bar opened, said Muir was simply providing for his family by ordering it sold.

"I think he felt like each of his heirs was entitled to their share that he was leaving them," he said. "The way they would get that share was to sell."

Overstreet would not speculate as to why Muir put the four-year limit on it, but Muir's friends said they believe he did it for them.

Bar manager Krista Edmonson said Bruce told her before he died he had several offers to purchase the property. In fact, around the time of his death, a large parcel of land nearby was being considered for a convention center.

"He knew what this land was worth," Edmonson said. "When he died, people thought that's it, the bar's closing. (Doing this), he was saying, ‘I'm going to give the people I love four years. Four years was more than any owner would give any property.’ "

For most, though, four years is not nearly long enough. Edmonson said when it was suggested a few months ago that employees should start looking for another job, word spread that the end was near.

"For three years I've been telling people that the Boo closing is a rumor," she said. "Now I can't say that."

Since it went up two months ago, a bulletin board at Kerr's web site (www.bigbamboolounge.com) has logged nearly 350 messages from people as far afield as New York, Pennsylvania, Peoria, Ill., South Pasadena, Calif., Canada, Asia and Europe. And, of course, from as close as Kissimmee and Winter Park.

An Orlando man lamented that the bar is the only building left standing from his wedding night — it hosted an after-reception blast. A local woman said she always recommended the bar to her guests, adding "the closing of this landmark will have a ripple effect across the country."

A man from Scotland rated The Boo as one of his Top 5 bars, and another from Atlanta said "the Boo was always there at the end of my (Disney) MGM Studios shift."

People who have gotten out of the habit have stopped by recently to see if the news was true, savoring a "Big Bamboo" or two, and talking about old times and how the world has changed.

That's expected to continue until the last drink is poured and the doors are locked for the last time. Until that moment, many said they will not give up hope that something will save their precious hangout.

"You can see that happen on the Internet," Kerr said. "People don't want to see the Bamboo go away. I still have that hope in my heart. If I had the money, I'd buy it and run it myself."

 



 

This article comes from Osceola News Gazette
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