The Claude Mono Blog


Whatever happened to the Kahiki Supper Club Fireplace? A Tiki Mystery!

Kahiki Supper Club 

1961… Columbus, Ohio… The Kahiki Supper Club, the mother ship of all South Seas themed restaurants, opens its doors. Located at 3583 East Broad Street. It was an easy landmark to identify. Shaped like a Polynesian fighting boat 40 feet tall with giant flaming Moai Heads outside the main doors that opened up into a tropical rainforest and reproduction of a typical Pacific Islander tribal village. The Kahiki’s name literally translates as “Sail to Tahiti”. In 1957 Lee Henry and Bill Sapp thought that Columbus could support another supper club and began traveling around the country in search of inspiration. In their travels, it struck them that all of the Polynesian restaurants they visited were doing very well and offered a more casual experience than many of the other clubs of the era. Thus, the idea of the Kahiki began to take shape.

As The Kahiki’s decorator, the pair hired Coburn Morgan, a prominent Ohio restaurant designer whose career may have been launched by his work on the Kahiki. The flamboyant design of the Kahiki was undoubtedly due to him. Construction began in June of 1960 at a cost of over a million dollars and the Kahiki opened her legendary doors in February of 1961.

The design of the building was based on men’s meeting houses of New Guinea and the details featured along the curved roof were found on many of the war canoes of the region. Pelicans and fish lined the apex of the roof, thought to be symbols of plentiful good food. Two replicas of the Easter Island heads stood guard at the doorway that was lined with murals to ward away evil spirits.

Stepping through the doorway of the 50-foot facade visitors entered a darkened Tahitian village with tall palm trees, waterfalls, thatched huts, idols, and a wild profusion of South Seas-style artefacts. Drinks were hard to resist. With three bars on the ground floor alone, the Kahiki’s menu included drinks served in 30 different glasses, goblets, and ceramic cups and bowls. The most expensive was the Mystery Drink served with four straws. Its presentation involved a scantily dressed waitress, the ringing of a gong, the gift of a lei, and a kiss. There were also Smoking Eruptions, with fumes emanating from chunks of dry ice, as well as Pago Passages, Malayan Mists, Tonga Tales, and Native Nectars.

The centrepiece of the main dining hall was an 80-feet tall tiki goddess with bright red eyes and a fireplace for a mouth.

Bathrooms featured shell washbasins and the sounds of “Thunder and Lighting” filled the tropical rainforests that lined the sides of the village interior which also featured were giant wall-sized aquariums filled with tropical fish of the South Pacific.

The Outrigger and Maui bars were on either side of the foyer and often the Beachcomber Trio could be found playing a fusion of Latin jazz and Polynesian melodies. The trio players were Bob Chalfant on piano, Henry Burch on Vibraphone, conga, bells and trumpet, and Marsh Padillo on guitar, flute and percussion. In 1965, they cut a record recorded live at The Kahiki and following the discovery of the original reel to reel tapes and it was recently re-released in a very limited edition hard to find vinyl. More about this below.

Watch some Home Movies…

Demolition of a National Treasure

The Kahiki was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in in 1997 (all the details can be seen here and recognised for its “rich Polynesian culture, architectural design and influence on national and local restaurant history.” Sadly receiving this national recognition didn’t stop The Kahiki from being demolished in 2000 to make way for a Walgreen’s supermarket.

On no where is the fireplace?

 

Lots more very depressing demolition photos here

 

Whatever happened to the Kahiki Supper Club Fireplace? A Tiki Mystery!

Much of the internal fittings were saved before the demolition and put in storage for an intended re-opening that sadly never happened… great mystery surrounded what happened to the huge fireplace…

The Answer…

 

The Beachcomber Trio “Live at the Kahiki 1965”

Experience an exotic evening at the famous Kahiki Supper Club, the legendary “Tiki Temple” in Columbus Ohio, listening to The Beachcomber Trio, the house band. This recording brings back the excitement of a small live audience with cocktails in hand and even includes the sound of the bar’s waterfall adding to the unique environmental experience. Listen now to the sound of a night out inside of the greatest Polynesian restaurants in the world.  This previously unreleased tape was for years in the possession of trio leader Marsh Padilla and recently presented to exotica musicologist Jeff Chenault who put the release together which is available through Dionysus Records. People who visited, or wished they had visited The Kahiki Supper Club definitely want to check out this LP.

LISTEN below to Don Brown one of the original members of the Beachcomber Trio discuss the Tahiki and the LP.

Kahiki Closing Party – Tiki News bids farewell to an icon
by Otto von Stroheim

What a party. Tiki News hosted legendary Columbus, Ohio’s Kahiki Restaurant’s closing party on August 26, 2000. Words cannot describe the overwhelming architecture (a one-story building with a sweeping roof that reaches 90 feet at the front of its A-frame) and the perfect Polynesian/Tiki ambiance of Kahiki. Nor can mere words begin to describe the warmth, hospitality and goodwill that abounded within the walls of Kahiki when 500 Tiki lovers converged there. Guests traveled from all over the U.S. and abroad. Some of the cities represented were Atlanta, Chicago, London, Los Angeles, Madison, Melbourne, Minneapolis, New York, Pittsburgh and San Francisco. Some of the Tiki celebrities included Shag aka Josh Agle (Tiki News #2 cover artist and former TikiTones guitarist), Martin McIntosh (Taboo: The Art of Tiki), Scott Owen (Murder Can Be Fun), Stacey Toon (Cheeseball), Al Hoff (ThriftScore), Vern Stoltz (Cannot Become Obsolete), Dirty Donny from Montreal (Kahiki poster artist), Freddy Fortune (musician), Johnny Halifax (London designer & filmmaker), tchotke maker Tiki King, Andy Cruz (Tiki font designer), monster maker Erik Von Gorr, Chris Pfouts (editor International Tattoo mag), Joe Bob Briggs (movie reviewer who is writing an article on Trader Vic), and of course Sven-Tiki aka Sven Kirsten (Book of Tiki; Tiki News co-editor). Foremost among the Tiki stars were original owner Bill Sapp, creator of drink & food recipes and the first bartender for the Kahiki Sandra O’Conte, and the builder (the guy responsible for the cement Maois out front) Herman Leitwein.

As the party kicked in the Kahiki house band gave the guests upstairs a taste of what a typical Saturday night at Kahiki is like. This was anything but a typical night though as Master Chef-in-the-making (and Michael’s son) Jeff Tsao orchestrated a top of the line luau with huge shrimp skewers pincushioned into towers made from fresh pineapples, two full roasted pigs with candied cherries for eyes, salmon pate shaped like a large salmon with head and fins reattached, make-your-own wonton bar, and lots of vegetarian fare too. Jeff is attending culinary school in Boston and took two months off to work the closing days of the Kahiki. If the luau spread and the media circus were not enough to distract folks from admiring the Kahiki’s lush tropical decor then live sets from Hollywood’s King Kukulele and Honolulu’s Don Tiki were. King Kukulele is a wild one man show using his uke and his humor to captivate audiences worldwide. Having recorded a pure modern Exotica album with guest appearances by the creator of Exotica music Martin Denny, Don Tiki was the logical choice for headlining this event. This was their first mainland performance and they made it memorable by kicking off with an address by Martin Denny filmed a few days prior. Denny closed his video greeting by playing the opening bars of Quiet Village then Don Tiki joined in a virtual jam with Denny and continued the tune to open their first set. Their fetching Island Goddess/bassist Hai Jong captivated the audience with her rhythm while the nine member band gave us 2 hours of perfectly executed Exotica.

As an added treat, a list of Tiki celeb DJs entertained in the banquet room all night: Jack Com Ed keyboardist extraordinaire; Rex Doane, WFMU DJ; Michael Toth, world renown Enoch Light appreciator & Cleveland radio DJ; Jeff Chenault, Les Baxter chronicler.

The entire Kahiki staff was also at their best. All of the lovely waitresses showed up in Hawaiian dresses – one even brought her daughter Lexa in a grass hula skirt outfit! And let no one forget the bartending duo of Skip and Jim. The locals worked these guys so hard for the last four months that one of the other bartenders literally walked off his shift shortly after opening on Friday (Kahiki’s last night open to the public which drew a line out the door). “The disappointing thing about the last four months is that it has been so busy that we couldn’t even talk to the regulars – we didn’t have time,” lamented Skip. Skip and Jim have been with the Kahiki 22 and 18 1/2 years respectively. During that time they saw Kahiki bar staff gradually lose its drink recipe books (and a few drinks fell off the menu too) but written recipes aren’t necessary for Skip & Jim who memorized the 40 drinks on Kahiki’s menu long ago. “Some of the drinks are easy: the only difference between a Zombie and a Barrelito is [1/2 ounce of ] Navy Grog mix,” stated Jim. But the Navy Grog mix is another story; The Kahiki Navy Grog mix is so complex and made so infrequently (once every 5 years) that the recipe was seldomly seen let alone memorized. Jim made it once when he was first hired at age 20, then again at 25. “I noticed [the recipe] hanging on a wire one day in the kitchen and I thought ‘That’s gonna fall off and get lost’” Jim divulged to me as I navigated my Navy Grog, “so I copied it down and kept it at home. Months later when it came time to make the recipe the other bartender said ‘It’s gone!’ and I said ‘No it isn’t I have it at home’”. Legend has it that making the mix requires a large pot and hours of patience. After pouring in the right amounts of sherry, three kinds of bitters (“Last time I had to purchase them at the pharmacy because the liquor stores don’t carry them anymore” explained Jim), curacao, rock candy syrup, orgeat syrup, cinnamon, etc. a stirrer is made from a stick and about a pound of cloves wrapped in cheesecloth. This is used to stir the mixture as it is slowly brought to a boil. The recipe fills 50-100 bottles! You won’t find this in your supermarket any time soon.

The Kahiki closing party was part dream, part nightmare for me. While it was a dream come true to be a major player in possible the biggest Tiki event this year if not this decade, it was alternately depressing to think that one of the world’s best Tiki bars would soon meet its demise and I was basically powerless to stop this…

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