Kahiki Fireplace of Mystery
Today we take a trip back to the mother ship of tiki bars – The Kahiki Supper Club in Columbus Ohio. While you might think Columbus is an odd place for such a legendary tiki landmark, remember in the 60’s tiki was everywhere (ah, the good old days). This 90 foot tall single story building was built to impress. It reportedly cost $1 million to build in 1960 and, with 560 seats, was the largest Polynesian restaurant in the U.S. It also received a perfect 10 on Critiki.
Kahiki Supper Club 1965 photo: Swanky
According to the Tiki Architecture Blog, “The Kahiki, at 3583 E. Broad St., was the brainchild of Bill Sapp and Lee Henry, also the creators of the Top Steak House near Bexley. Their temple of Tiki opened in 1961 after their Tiki bar, the Grass Shack, burned down.” Besides the spectacular building itself, which was modeled after a New Guinea meeting house, there were two 16 foot tall flame-topped Moai’s guarding the front door and a 23 foot tall Moai fireplace. This fireplace was the inspiration for our latest PinTiki collector pin and was the center of much of the action at the Kahiki. The fireplace also purportedly had a window in it that allowed the owners to look out on the action in the restaurant.
Kahiki interior and fireplace 1962 - photo TikiSkip
But that’s not all as Ohio History Connection notes “… waterfalls, tanks of fish, live birds, large drums, and an iconic monkey fountain known as George; at the center of the building was a giant stone Moai fireplace. For most visitors though, the main draw was the variety of exotic drinks. The restaurant featured three bars and served drinks in over 30 different cups, goblets, and bowls. Visitors and celebrities came to the Kahiki from across the country”.
Kahiki Menu - Pinterest
The penultimate Kahiki drink had to have been the “Mystery Drink” which according to Columbus Underground “was made to serve 4 people and contained 8 ounces of rum and brandy. Served in a bowl with a smoking volcano in the middle, it was served by the “Mystery Girl” who ceremoniously danced it to your table after being summoned by a giant gong. Then after bowing to the fireplace idol, would bring the smoking bowl to the diner and present it to their party along with a lei of orchids which were flown in 2-3 times a week from Hilo, Hawaii.”
The Mystery Drink - postcard Pinterest
As you can see this place was more than spectacular, but sadly, as they say, all good things must come to pass (why someone had to say this I don’t know). Even though the building was put on the National Register of Historic Places in 1997, it was closed in 2000 and eventually Walgreen's (or was it CVS?) purchased the building and later bulldozed it. The Kahiki Company now is focused on selling a line of frozen foods.
Party at Kahiki - Pinterest
As noted on the Kahiki Foods website, “closing the Kahiki was a year-long adventure that broke every sales record on the books. Every day for a solid year, customers lined around the building waiting to experience one last meal at the restaurant that had become a Columbus institution.”
Before the building was demolished, more than 500 Kahiki fans and celebrities from as far away as London, Melbourne and San Francisco flew to Columbus for a farewell party hosted by Otto von Stroheim of Tiki News. Then came the effort to salvage as much as possible before the building was gone.
One miracle was that the huge fireplace was actually removed by a crane and saved. Watch this crazy footage of the fireplace being lifted out through a hole in the roof. In 2007 TikiFarm made a mug to raise funds to restore the fireplace, but in 2010 it was sold along with one Moai from the entrance. To see what happened from there, I suggest you check out this fun video : Whatever happen to the Kahiki Fireplace – A Tiki Mystery.
Tiki Farm Mug from 2007
This article just scratches the surface of the Kahiki Supper Club. If you want to dig deep into lore of Kahiki and its mysterious fireplace you can check out this book by David Meyers Kahiki Supper Club: A Polynesian Paradise in Columbus. It will turn you into a fan like me. And if you’re already a fan, be sure to get your own Kahiki Fireplace tiki pin.