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Memories on tap- Orlando Sentinel- 7/4/05

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  • Memories on tap- Orlando Sentinel- 7/4/05

    The drinks have stopped flowing at the Big Bamboo Lounge, but Disney workers and other patrons can't forget the good times.

    A gentleman sat alone at one end of the bar, the only man in a suit and tie. The lady showed up alone after work, because she didn't want to go home to an empty house. Both were separated from their spouses.

    He, a Disney artist, watched her talking and laughing with a couple she had just met. After nearly everyone else had gone home, he asked to join them because they were having such a good time. Then he pressed a felt-tip pen to a blank sheet of typewriter paper and drew her a Mickey Mouse -- just as his mentor, Walt Disney, had taught him to do to share his art with the public.

    After they were married years later, Ralph Kent liked to say he had "slipped his wife a Mickey" at the Big Bamboo Lounge.

    That's the kind of atmosphere the dingy tiki bar on U.S. Highway 192 generated during its 27 years. It's what longtime patrons miss most since the place closed last fall because of hurricane damage.

    "There's a million stories," says Kent, 66, who directed the art departments at Walt Disney World and later became director of Imagineering.

    The daughters of founder Bruce Muir say they want to reopen the tavern but can't reach his widow to proceed, and there are other legal issues.

    Closed, looted and rotting is how the bar sits, says John Kerr, Web master for bigbamboolounge.com. He sent a message last month to patrons on an e-mailing list informing them, he was sad to say, that it looked as though the bar would not reopen.

    "At this point, the place is pretty much destroyed and vandalized and gone. So even if it did open back up, it still wouldn't be the same," Kerr says. "We just considered it safe to say it was history."

    During its heyday, the bar became something of a landmark on the highway to Disney World. Baseball legend Yogi Berra cut the ribbon when Muir expanded the bar into a former storeroom. Actor Mr. T. showed up once, chains and all, and front-office workers with the Houston Astros often stopped by while in town for spring training. Former Astros pitcher Larry Dierker, a fan of the Big Bamboo, opened a copycat watering hole in 2003 at Minute Maid Park in Houston.
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