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Restaurants / Closings

Classic Heights Dive Bar is Closing, Leaving a Wild Legacy of Cat Weddings and Puppet Hijinks

There is Nothing Else Quite Like Big Star Bar in Houston

BY // 04.23.19

The Heights continues to evolve, for better or for worse. Historic sites have given way to future visions. What’s old is new again, and there have been some serious changes in the restaurant and bar scene.

And it’s not just about ushering in new concepts. Decade-old spots are shuttering.

Add to the list: a casual, almost underground bar on 19th Street where “expect the unexpected” was the unspoken credo.

Big Star Bar in Woodland Heights, now in its 11th year of business but celebrating its 10 Year Anniversary in May — for these offbeat folks, timing isn’t everything — will be closing.

This is the bar where you’d find DJs dressed as Dolly Parton, a one-off concert by an eclectic underground legend, a piñata stuffed with nitrous oxide canisters, a thoughtfully planned wedding between a bartender and a bar cat called Ting Ting, for short, and much more.

This neighborhood watering hole transcended the dive bar designation, turning into something of a cult classic.

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But there’s no need to worry yet. A star may just be reborn.

The Lone Star-centric bar co-owned by Brad Moore will operate on a month-to-month basis for the foreseeable future.

So, the star hasn’t fallen quite yet. There could be a new lease on life.

“We’ll try to find another location for Big Star. It’ll never be the same, but if we can find a space, yes. And if someone wants to buy the building and be our landlord, we’d do that, too,” Moore tells PaperCity.

But it’s more likely to be a build paradise, put up a parking lot scenario than the site for a Big Star Bar renaissance. “It will likely be purchased and torn down for condos. That’s an assumption. That’s likely its destiny,” Moore admits.

Still, a whole new life for the land might be easier for Moore to stomach than watching something basic take root.

“If we’re not going to be there, it might be better to see it completely go away. It may be more fitting than watching a Little Woodrow’s go in there, or whatever,” Moore notes.

“Burn it down! It’s better to burn out than stay the way. We’re not going to be in there, so bulldoze it,” he laughs. “And let the ghosts fly away.”

It’s not like Moore doesn’t have his hands full. He and Ryan Rouse — his business partner and best friend, who were first brought together at the epic bar — run Grand Prize, Captain Foxheart’s Bad News Bar & Spirits Lounge, OKRA Charity Saloon and Sassafras.

Big Star Bar holds a special place for Moore. It’s his second venture after Washington Avenue’s Pearl Bar, which he ditched after it became infested with a “tacky, golf cap crowd. I wanted to have more thought-provoking conversations. When I got out of that, I was looking for, you know, a place where my friends could come and hang out.”

Embracing The Heights

The migration to an uncharted corner of The Heights followed their process. “We just try to go places where cool people are moving and give them a place to hang out,” Moore says. “We do neighborhood bars. Hopefully they become relevant and important in that neighborhood and beyond.”

Starting out, it boiled down to basics. Moore toured an old El Salvadoran bar and knew from the moment he walked into the space that this was it. “I like patios, I like picnic tables, I like fire pits. I like weird dark bars,” he chuckles.

“Juke box, staff, fire pit, good lighting. A nice little bar with good music and conversation.”

big star bar
Big Star Bar was the place for epic craft beer, not craft cocktails.

For the juke, Moore and staff chose 100 CDs, and people got to choose from those. Think an eclectic mix, tunes from Tom Waits, New York Dolls, Loretta Lynn and Destiny’s Child as the go-tos.

The bar’s name has a musical bent — so called for the erstwhile band Big Star. It might not have been planned, but the band’s history kind of tracked with Big Star Bar’s story, an under-the-radar success, treasured by those in the know.

“They were almost famous. Super influential, super famous among musicians, but never quite made the status,” Moore says.

Big Star Bar never set out to be a live music venue, but over the past 11 odd years DJs and an assortment of musical acts have flooded the funky scene.

The most off-the-wall performance? That came courtesy of Jandek.

“This super mysterious Houstonian, world-famous for his really odd music. He didn’t play shows for a long time,” Moore says.

The cryptic, idiosyncratic artist is known for his unique take on East Texas folk and blues. His show at Big Star Bar was one of those once-in-a-lifetime kind of things.

“I ran into him at a bar, we were talking about beer. I said ‘I know who you are,’ and he was like ‘How do you know who I am?’ I gave him my card if he ever wanted to play a weird venue in The Heights,” Moore notes. “A year later, he called me.”

That’s only one kind of performance. Big Star Bar also hosted various shadow puppet shows, centered on characters like Space City icon Marvin Zindler. That show was put on by a puppeteer that Moore would go on to marry — just another example of Big Star Bar bringing people together.

“It’s a good bar. People get pretty rowdy — especially for a puppet show,” Moore laughs.

The cat wedding may stand out as the craziest thing to ever transpire at Big Star Bar.”That was a reaction to whatever politician that said if we allow gay marriage, then what’s going to happen next, people are going to marry their cats? We were like fuck that, we’re going to do it,” Moore says.

He played officiant, marrying the tabby Super Secret Agent Ting Ting Stu to a willing and eager bartender. Bridesmaids and groomsmen donning frilly tuxedo shirts made for a picture purrfect moment.

Ting Ting, as the tabby’s affectionately known, chased many cats out of the neighborhood. But he’s selected a protege, a kitten called Willie James Dio. Moore’ll see to it that the felines are well taken care of after Big Star Bar shuts down, hoping to place them at another bar.

You’re sure to see them if you hit up Big Star’s under the sea-themed Memorial Day weekend party. The details haven’t been entirely ironed out yet, but Moore anticipates some food on Sunday and he’s got some surprises — unsurprisingly — up his sleeve.

There’s always the possibility that they’ll relocate with Big Star Bar — maybe even in The Heights, despite the neighborhood’s transformation.

“I lived there for a decade. I think it got more boring, but I’m not against it. We’d take a place in The Heights. It may not be as interesting as it used to be, but The Heights is still relevant,” Moore says.

He’s hitched his wagon to a star — who knows what will come next?

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