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September 22, 2014

Bow Down to the Tiki Cocktail, Douches and Douchettes!


Posted by gerardvanderleun at September 22, 2014 11:01 AM. This is an entry on the sideblog of American Digest: Check it out.

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The Kahiki Supper Club — home of indoor thunderstorms, a cursing bird and food that occasionally required a fire extinguisher — has been gone from Columbus for 14 years.

The demolition of the East Side restaurant is one of the most grievous landmark losses in city history. Every town has historically significant buildings. Only Columbus had an enormous Polynesian restaurant with conch-shell sinks and imported palm trees (from which stowaway snakes occasionally emerged). It was known nationwide.

The story of the restaurant’s rise and fall is told in minute detail in Kahiki Supper Club: A Polynesian Paradise in Columbus (History, 173 pages, $19.99) by David Meyers, Elise Meyers Walker, Jeff Chenault and Doug Motz.

The Kahiki, which opened in 1961 at 3583 E. Broad St., was the creation of Bill Sapp and Lee Henry, who also founded the venerable Top Steak House in Bexley. Eager to get in on the Polynesian-themed restaurant craze, they opened the Grass Shack in 1958, but it burned down a year later. The Kahiki was its more elaborate successor.

Five stories tall, it rose above the strip malls of E. Broad Street like a South Seas boat blown off course. Patrons walked between two Easter Island icons (with flaming heads), over a bamboo bridge and past waterfalls into a dining room dominated by a massive stone god with glowing eyes. Simulated thunder and lightning enhanced the rain-forest motif.

The book (disclosure: It quotes some of my articles on the restaurant) includes some details that only a Kahiki obsessive could love — such as where its souvenir pottery was made. But it also has interesting behind-the-scenes tales:

• A substitute worker hired to clean the aquariums unwittingly mixed piranhas with about 1,000 other tropical fish. The piranhas ate all of them.

• A disgruntled employee kidnapped Sam, a foulmouthed macaw who lived at the restaurant. He was recovered and implanted with an anti-theft chip.

• The flaming food occasionally touched off fires that required an extinguisher to control.

The restaurant was sold twice in its 39-year life, eventually ending up in the hands of Michael Tsao, who made the decision to close it in 2000. The authors conclude that he had sound business reasons: Revenue had flattened, the building needed extensive repairs, and the neighborhood had deteriorated. A Walgreens pharmacy now stands on the site.

For those who would like to toast the Kahiki’s memory, the book includes restaurant drink (and food) recipes — including the Smoking Eruption (dry ice required).

But no one will ever drink one in a building like that again.

Joe Blundo is a Dispatch columnist.

Posted by: Fat Man [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 22, 2014 1:36 PM

Posted by: Fat Man [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 22, 2014 1:37 PM

I was a big fan of Polynesian back then - for the ribs mostly. Those places were everywhere. I even found a diminutive one in Smyrna, TN, that had some of the best Poly ribs I've ever eaten. It was called the Omni Hut.

Posted by: BillH [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 22, 2014 2:08 PM

That's not a Tiki in the picture, though. Rather more disturbingly, it's the Aztec goddess Coatlique:

Whether they're invoking her as a symbol of feminism, Mexico-centrism, or a general love of human sacrifice, it's pretty appalling.

Posted by: Schill MacGuffin [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 22, 2014 3:03 PM

Feeders of Vaal.

Posted by: David McKinnis [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 22, 2014 4:07 PM

Bowing before idols, never a good thing. I love how the prophets in the Bible mock this. You carve something out of wood you know is dumb and can do nothing, then bow down to the work of your own hands.

Posted by: Christopher Taylor [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 22, 2014 10:24 PM

A restaurant? They're bowing down to a restaurant?

No offense to you guys that enjoyed the place, but these mooks bowing down, worshipping a place to eat food?

Reminds me of a sci-fi story. Seems these space aliens came down to a defunct Earth, did some archaeological digging, found a white porcelain toilet. They pondered, set the thing up and figured it was a center of worship, a throne. They decided the seat was some kind of crown the priest would wear around his head and shoulders.

What those in the picture should be lining up for is a good hard punch in the face. Ironically, they would do it with the right hype and sadly, it wouldn't do 'em any good. They'd like it, get back in line for more.

Posted by: chasmatic [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 23, 2014 1:07 AM

I'd be cool with what's going on in that pic if they fed a naked virgin to that stachoo at the end. Except, in that bunch, it's kinda hard to find virgins.

Posted by: DonRodrigo [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 23, 2014 10:11 AM

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