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Tiki Central Forums » » Collecting Tiki » » KAHIKI Columbus, ohio tiki bar restaurant. Bill Sapp, the catalog
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KAHIKI Columbus, ohio tiki bar restaurant. Bill Sapp, the catalog
tikiskip
Grand Member (8 years)  

Joined: Nov 26, 2005
Posts: 2925
Posted: 2008-07-12 7:33 pm   Permalink

Columbus, Ohio February 2001 Atlantic Monthly

How do we distinguish the historic from the sentimental?

by Wayne Curtis


The Tiki Wars

Last June, I had dinner at the Kahiki Supper Club, in Columbus, Ohio. The food was memorable, although not necessarily in a good way. Some meals were served in carved pineapples; others crackled with eyebrow-singeing flames. (The Columbus Dispatch once wrote that "the Kahiki is one of the few restaurants in Columbus in which food can injure you.") From time to time a nearby table would order up a four-person flaming drink, which was delivered amid the sound of gongs by an exotic "mystery girl"—a ritual that, according to the menu, "symbolizes an ancient sacrifice, which reportedly stopped volcanoes from erupting."


Illustration by Marcellus Hall

I entered the Kahiki, said to be modeled after a New Guinea men's meetinghouse, between a pair of twenty-foot-high Easter Island idols with flames spouting from their heads. Inside, after crossing a low bridge and passing through a damp grotto, I wandered into a series of dining rooms filled with thatched "dining huts." The main room, a conical structure with a towering ceiling, was presided over by an eighty-foot-high tiki goddess with glowing red eyes and a fireplace for a mouth.

No surface was unmolested. In and around the dining huts were totems, carved masks, woven grass mats, parts of ersatz shipwrecks, lamps fashioned from seashells, fountains spewing luridly tinted water, adult beverages served in skull-shaped mugs, and an assortment of lavishly varnished blowfish. Localized "thunderstorms," complete with "lightning," passed through every twenty minutes or so, drenching the tract of rain forest outside my dining-hut window.

Built in 1961, the Kahiki wasn't the first tiki restaurant in the nation (that honor goes to Don the Beachcomber's, in Hollywood, which opened in 1934), but it may have been the most elaborate. Last June, The New York Times dubbed the Kahiki "the grandest and best-preserved of a nearly extinct form of culinary recreation." Otto von Stroheim, the publisher of Tiki News, a newsletter devoted to Polynesian pop, once called the Kahiki "the first or second most important tiki restaurant in the world." In 1997 the Kahiki joined the nearly 70,000 other properties listed on the National Register of Historic Places. "I don't like to do firsts and biggests and bests and lasts," Beth Savage, an architectural historian who evaluates properties for the register, told me. "But I can say with certainty that this is the only tiki listed."

I had gone to Columbus last summer because Walgreens, the drugstore chain, had recently announced its intention to build a 15,000-square-foot store on the property occupied by the Kahiki. This plan, of course, would require the demolition of the restaurant, a fact that did not go unnoticed locally. A grassroots group (it preferred the appellation "grass-skirt group") circulated an e-mail petition to save the Kahiki. The Dispatch was filled with passionate letters from heartbroken residents. The newspaper editorialized against the closing.

All to no avail. It's an honor to be listed on the National Register, but, as with the social register, inclusion suggests more power than it actually confers. On August 26 the Kahiki served its final meal and then locked its hexagonal front door for good. The building was demolished in November.

I realize that I'm hardly alone in saying I hate it when drugstore chains raze cool old buildings and replace them with boxy, harshly lit stores selling eyeliner and blister packs of batteries. But I found myself mustering a bit of sympathy for Walgreens in this fight. The Kahiki was, after all, a fake Polynesian restaurant that served mediocre, dangerous food and sat on an unlovely commercial strip at the frayed edge of the city. Its loss didn't really rank with the destruction of a Frank Lloyd Wright masterpiece or a Civil War battlefield. Then I called Nathalie Wright, the National Register coordinator at the Ohio Historic Preservation Office. She was the person responsible for nominating the Kahiki for the National Register, and when I asked her what the big deal was, she made an articulate case.

Placed in its socio-historical context, Wright argued, the Kahiki vividly recalled a time when America inhabited a sort of South Seas Camelot. Songs from the movie musical South Pacific (1958) were on everyone's lips, Hawaii had joined the union as the fiftieth state just two years before (1959), and Elvis was starring in Blue Hawaii (1961). If historic buildings serve as cairns that mark our path as we march resolutely forward through time, we should preserve places like the Kahiki in the event we ever want to go back.

Furthermore, Wright said, tiki bars were among the original theme restaurants, dating from a time when Americans began to evince an apparently lasting appetite for the artificial over the real. And with Mount Vernon, for example, now sharing space on the National Register with the likes of the Kahiki, it becomes harder for American families to distinguish the genuine from its simulacrum. On a wall near the Kahiki's men's room I found a 1995 article from Fortune in which Michael Eisner, the CEO of Disney, who went to college nearby, revealed that he had attended his first drive-in movie in Columbus and enjoyed meals at the Kahiki. If there's a better contemporary version of "George Washington slept here," I don't know it.

That we're now trying to save the very places we once derided is nothing new. Queen Anne-style houses and Craftsman-style bungalows followed similar tracks: they were icons of an era which fell out of fashion and were subject to ridicule and large-scale demolition before being "discovered," dusted off, and placed on pedestals. "I call this the grandmother principle," the architect Robert Venturi has said. "You hate your mother's wedding gown in your parents' wedding photograph, but you love your grandmother's wedding gown in your grandparents' wedding photograph."

Venturi made this observation last October in Philadelphia, at a conference titled "Preserving the Recent Past." The gathering, of some 850 preservationists, engineers, and architects, was largely given over to arcane technical matters—for example, how to maintain glass-curtain walls and acoustic-tile ceilings. But a more philosophical question was on everyone's mind: How do we preserve the past when faced with accelerating cycles of building and demolition? Today we destroy buildings before they've ripened. We don't allow ourselves the luxury of waiting to evaluate their historical importance. If we are to preserve the best, we need somehow to flag our landmarks for exemption from this hasty winnowing.

This is a complicated matter. Not only is it a daunting task to persuade the members of the public that buildings constructed in their lifetime are historic and worth saving, but also it requires that we sort the truly historic from the merely nostalgic.

"There's a real danger that sentiment can overtake rationality, and preservationists can be made to look ridiculous if we're not careful," says David De Long, a professor of architecture at the University of Pennsylvania. "All of us have a sentimental attachment to these things. One of the great responsibilities of those of us in preservation is to edit. It's a big responsibility. The easiest way to avoid it is to be against any destruction."

But what to save? Early strip malls? Subdivisions filled with tract homes? Drive-in theaters? White Castle hamburger stands? (One paper presented in Philadelphia was titled "The Ubiquitous Parking Garage: Worthy of Preservation?") After all, these are icons of the twentieth century, much as canals and carriage houses and Richardsonian Romanesque train depots are icons of the nineteenth. Isn't it important to preserve the best architectural examples of our era for our grandchildren? How do we decide which are the best?

Before the wrecking ball came in, the Kahiki's owners removed much of the interior and put it in storage. Plans call for the restaurant to reopen within two years, in a better location downtown, with the original interior. That's the good news. The bad news is that the new Kahiki certainly won't have the comfortable and dusky patina of the original place. (And it will lose its National Register listing.) It's easy to imagine the Kahiki reborn as just another "eatertainment" venue—a Rainforest Cafe with varnished blowfish.

Of course, its resurrection will also raise the question of whether the new Kahiki should one day be preserved as an example of the pervasive influence of retro kitsch on American culture. This, I'm happy to say, will be up to the next generation to decide.

The URL for this page is
http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200102/curtis.


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Ratzaroony
Tiki Centralite

Joined: May 29, 2007
Posts: 72
From: Dublin, Ohio
Posted: 2008-07-13 1:14 pm   Permalink

Quote:

On 2007-10-28 11:40, tikiskip wrote:
Here is a menu from the Kahiki.
This menu was never used at the Kahiki.
It was a new lunch idea that they never put in action.





Today I was at the Springfield, Ohio antique malls and I found a copy of that menu. The guy who was selling them had a lot of menus, some of which had writing on them, so I'm thinking he was the printer. Anyways, the menus are the same, except mine has different prices and certain other menu items, that were then changed in Skip's copy. I thought you guys might like to see what else might have appeared on the menu.

PS - If you want to see all the differences, Skip's pictures are on page 11. I didn't want to quote them all because this post is long enough as it is







[ This Message was edited by: Ratzaroony 2008-07-13 13:16 ]

[ This Message was edited by: Ratzaroony 2008-07-13 21:17 ]


 
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tikiskip
Grand Member (8 years)  

Joined: Nov 26, 2005
Posts: 2925
Posted: 2008-07-14 3:35 pm   Permalink

So it looks like they did use the menu after all.

 
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Capt'n Skully
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Joined: May 28, 2005
Posts: 404
From: The Lost Lagoon
Posted: 2008-07-14 3:46 pm   Permalink

Nice find Ratz! Looks like a markup for a menu revision.. From what it looks like compared to t-skip's, perhaps the Final Proof before going to press!! All the changes written on your's are 'fixed' in John's, so maybe the menu was printed but never used? Wonder who's penmanship that is?!?!
_________________
~Skully



 
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tikiskip
Grand Member (8 years)  

Joined: Nov 26, 2005
Posts: 2925
Posted: 2008-08-02 06:45 am   Permalink

Here is a light from the Kahiki.
There was not a working fixture in it so
I fixed it up for the owner of this light.




 
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umeone
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Joined: Aug 26, 2005
Posts: 155
Posted: 2008-08-16 10:45 am   Permalink

Ratzaroony,

the luncheon menu you purchased was in fact used at the Kahiki.

The changes in prices and the writing is that of Bill Sapp.

Nice find! - umeone


 
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Ratzaroony
Tiki Centralite

Joined: May 29, 2007
Posts: 72
From: Dublin, Ohio
Posted: 2008-08-16 7:31 pm   Permalink

Very cool! Thank you for the information!

 
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tikiskip
Grand Member (8 years)  

Joined: Nov 26, 2005
Posts: 2925
Posted: 2008-11-19 3:22 pm   Permalink

Here is a picture I thought needed to be here.
Pic from Trader Jeff.
Thanks Jeff!!!
This is Phil Kientz.
He did the Moai and other work at the Kahiki.
I think he also did the Rolling Rock label and a statue in
German village.
The last photo is his letter head.
Address looks to be...
Philip E Kientz 820 SO 5th ST HI 3 5639 Columbus 6 Ohio



That glint of light was not on the second photo.
It came when I took a photo of the photo.
Kinda freaky.





[ This Message was edited by: tikiskip 2012-02-23 16:16 ]


 
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Jeff Central
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Joined: Jul 23, 2002
Posts: 1605
From: Columbus, Ohio
Posted: 2008-11-20 07:21 am   Permalink

You're welcome skip!!

I love that pic!!

Cheers and Mahalo,
Jeff


 
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tikiskip
Grand Member (8 years)  

Joined: Nov 26, 2005
Posts: 2925
Posted: 2009-02-22 10:12 am   Permalink

Here is a picture that I got from one of the Bistro boys.
It is an old ad for the Kahiki.
Check out the lights in this room!!
This picture was taken in the backgammon in the basement
of the Kahiki.



 
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bigbrotiki
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Joined: Mar 25, 2002
Posts: 11249
From: Tiki Island, above the Silverlake
Posted: 2009-02-22 11:32 am   Permalink

Aaaah! Columbus natives practicing the ancient Polynesian tradition of Backgammon!

 
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Jeff Central
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Joined: Jul 23, 2002
Posts: 1605
From: Columbus, Ohio
Posted: 2009-02-24 11:55 am   Permalink

Quote:

On 2009-02-22 11:32, bigbrotiki wrote:
Aaaah! Columbus natives practicing the ancient Polynesian tradition of Backgammon!



A few years later this area would be the site of the first Polynesian Discoteque!!!

Cheers and Mahalo,
Jeff


 
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Sabina
Tiki Socialite

Joined: Apr 08, 2002
Posts: 372
From: The Lounge of the Seven Pleasures!
Posted: 2009-03-03 4:33 pm   Permalink

On 2009-02-24 11:55, Jeff Central wrote:
Quote:


A few years later this area would be the site of the first Polynesian Discoteque!!!




Which I once stumbled into quite by accident!

OH SO WRONG! Just WRONG!

Let's just say the mirrored ball was probably the strangest thing ever to hang from any Kahiki ceiling.



_________________
"You're getting more interesting by the drink!" -Pepe le Tiki

[ This Message was edited by: Sabina 2009-03-03 16:34 ]


 
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tikiskip
Grand Member (8 years)  

Joined: Nov 26, 2005
Posts: 2925
Posted: 2009-05-03 9:00 pm   Permalink

Here is some pictures of a hut top from the Kahiki.
It had a light in the middle of it.
The lens for the light is made of rocks, glass and shells.
I just gave this to someone who I know will give it a good home.
Hope to show pic's when it is up.










 
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bigbrotiki
Tiki Socialite

Joined: Mar 25, 2002
Posts: 11249
From: Tiki Island, above the Silverlake
Posted: 2009-05-04 06:59 am   Permalink

Skip, do you know who did all the resin art in the Kahiki? The bar top of the piano bar and both of the owners desks tops were great works of fantasy native and nautical art.

 
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