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Video and Photos of the Kahiki Moai Fireplace salvage

Kahiki Demolition

The Kahiki Super Club was one of the greatest Polynesian restaurants in the world. Located in Columbus, OH, the Kahiki opened in 1961 and remained in business until August, 2000, when it was torn down to become a Walgreens. Yes, a Walgreens.

Most of the interior decor of the Kahiki was put in storage by the owners, including the massive Moai fireplace pictured above. I shot the salvage crew's rescue of the Moai through a hole cut in the roof two days before the entire building was demolised.

Click to watch the video.

Here is a flickr photoset of the salvage operation, including interior shots.

Most of the great Polynesian restaurants are long gone, but a few spectacular ones remain, including the amazing Mai Kai in Ft. Lauderdale, which is an absolute must-visit.

Critiki is a great resource for discovering Tiki Temples past and present.

The music in the video is Robert Drasnin's Voodoo, from the record/cd of the same name.

For more information about the Kahiki, visit the amazing community at Tiki Central.

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24 Comments

So what happened to the fireplace?

Next time you come to this neck of the woods, I'm gonna take you to Lee's Hawaiian Islander in Lyndhurst, NJ.

said Scaramouch on May 10, 2006 12:22 PM.

I'm down with Lee's Hawaiian Islander!!

As far as I know the fireplace was put into storage. The owners claimed they were going to rebuild the Kahiki in another location but that seems unlikely now.

said TheMuggler on May 10, 2006 12:29 PM.

I remember Kahiki well... still drink my coffee out of a 'zombie' skull mug. I understand, however, that they are building a new one somewhere in Dublin.

Which is former home to TAG market, which also became... a Walgreens.

said Barry on May 10, 2006 1:48 PM.

Cowlumbus.... Cowtown... The best thing to do in that town is move away. That's what anyone I knew did. I ate at the Kahiki once, didn't even know it was a national treasure. It was in a really weird location, the mood there was stifling. Looked nice tho!

said Brian on May 10, 2006 3:48 PM.

I lived in Columbus and ate many times at the Kahiki. It was a great place to have dinner atmosphere wise. The food was unfortunately just OK. The Mai Tai's were great too though. I do remember the HUGE fireplace and loved to get seating under one of the hut's inside near the aquariums. Is there a place to go to buy some of the items? Are they being auctioned off?

said Big daddy on May 10, 2006 4:04 PM.

Here's the story about what happened since the Kahiki was demolished... http://www.dispatch.com/business-story.php?story=dispatch/2006/03/28/20060328-D1-00.html

It's funny, because some coworkers & I just ate there today, at the Tropical Bistro.

said Michael on May 10, 2006 5:36 PM.

Link the the designers.
http://www.sem-architects.com/gallery/Restaurants/KahikiExt

said pat on May 10, 2006 8:11 PM.

I loved the atmosphere at the Kahiki! Volcano-based drinks, cheezy...well...everything all around. Yeah, the food was total cr@p, though. Went once and had so much fun that I forgot how bad the food was until I dragged some friends in a year later.

I think that I've spotted their frozen food entrees in some specialty stores like Trader Joe's. The Kahiki name lives on even if the place no longer exists.

Thanks for posting this one, Muggler. It brings back good memories of a crazy place that fell on hard times.

said El Queso Grande on May 10, 2006 10:12 PM.

I grew up in Columbus/Cowtown in the '70's and always thought the Kahiki was an eyesore and symptomatic of the yearnings of those bred on the mid-western plains for any sort of "jet-set" sophistication. Tacky didn't begin to describe this place. I felt embarassed the few times I was dragged there as a child, always wondering, don't the adults get that this place is an abomination! Oh, and the food sucked, too. Surprise! Those cooing about it now didn't have to live with it. The Walgreens is an improvement!

said Adam on May 10, 2006 10:38 PM.

I saw some of the stuff that was removed from the Kahiki in a warehouse down in the Jaeger Warehouse area, west of the Arena district. This was a few years ago, now that they are tearing a lot of those buildings down for the Jaeger Commerce Park I don't know if they are still stored there.

said Justice on May 10, 2006 11:39 PM.

Adam,

I can see how someone who grew up in the 70's would view an artifact from their parent's swinging youth an eyesore, but you can't honestly believe that the 900th Walgreens in town is an improvement over an original, locally owned landmark.

The Kahiki and similar places are a part of our pop culture and our social history, whether you like it or not (and there are a great many people who love it).

I spent three days shooting the salvage operation and demolition of the Kahiki and I met many many locals who came to reminisce about the Kahiki -- weddings, proms, graduations, etc.

I doubt locals will ever have that kind of attachment to a Walgreens in 40 years (or any cookie cutter chain store or eatery for that matter).

said TheMuggler on May 10, 2006 11:54 PM.

This was one of our nation's truly majestic places.

I agree that the food was overpriced and on the mediocre side, but the sheer over-the-top ambience of the place more than made up for it. The mind-numbing mixtures of rum, gin and juice didn't hurt either.

Who can forget: the Gaugin-esque murals in bar depicting the idyllic, half-nude frollickery of island life; the preserved blowfish lamps; the aquarium and bird cage "windows". And all that dry ice.

Atque in perpetuum Kahiki ave atque vale.

said Simon Walker on May 11, 2006 10:44 AM.

Ah where else can you get cr@ppy chicken served on a FLAMING SWORD! Who cared what it tasted like, it was on FIRE! I remember getting a shrimp cocktail served in a huge clamshell that had so much dry ice in it...it was truley awesome! I too still use my tiki mug for my morning coffee. I think what makes the whole thing so rotten is that a Walgreens went up there. Like we needed another drug store. Gone are the days of class.

Welcome in the new era of Philistines.

said Christopher on May 11, 2006 10:59 AM.

Thanks for posting these images of the Kahiki. I grew up in a neighboring town, and it was always our birthday wish each year to go to Columbus and eat dinner at the Kahiki. I'll stipulate that the food was lame, but have many fond memories of what was once a magical place. I think it's a crime that it was destroyed.

My uncle actually stores the main fireplace and other articfacts from the Kahiki. I thought about asking him to send it to me. I could put it at the foot of my bed. Might impress the chicks!

Anyhow, thanks again!

said marlowe on May 11, 2006 3:16 PM.

This place sounds like it was awesome. I wish I could have gone. Trust me when I tell you that Lee's Hawaiian Islander will pale in comparison. It seemed like every dish on the menu was made with pineapple. Weird.

said Cindy on May 11, 2006 4:04 PM.

I also went to the Kahiki as a child while growing up in the 70s/80s, and I must say that my memories are only good ones! I was devastated when I heard that it would be demolished. I will never forget being seated by an aquarium, my dad ordering the mystery drink, and my sister and I being absolutely awed by the fireplace. When you consider the generic atmosphere of most "themed" restaurants in Ohio now, the individuality and sheer exuberance of the Kahiki really stand out. Bring it back!!!

said Jennifer Mack on May 12, 2006 1:31 AM.

I worked at the Kahiki for 3 years from 1983-1986 as a hostess, waitress and yes, the Mystery Girl. I also met my husband there. He was a bartender at the Kila lounge and the Outrigger bar. We have been married for 24 years now and have 3 wonderful kids. All of that I owe to the Kahiki. It will always be a big part of my life. Thanks to all the memories.... ALOHA !

said maria on May 18, 2006 6:36 PM.

I worked at the Kahiki for 3 years from 1983-1986 as a hostess, waitress and yes, the Mystery Girl. I also met my husband there. He was a bartender at the Kila lounge and the Outrigger bar. We have been married for 24 years now and have 3 wonderful kids. All of that I owe to the Kahiki. It will always be a big part of my life. Thanks to all the memories.... ALOHA !

said maria on May 18, 2006 6:37 PM.

I ate at the Kahiki several times over the years. I remember the last time I was there...couldn't have been more than a year or two before it was demolished...I read a letter that was posted on the wall in the foyer. It was from Michael Eisner (yes, the head of Disney). Apparently, he had been interviewed by some magazine and had mentioned this Polynesian supper club in Columbus that he and his friends used to patronize when he was in college at Denison University in Granville. I think he had taken a stab at the name, but couldn't get it right. So the owners of the restaurant had contacted him to remind him of the correct name, and he had written the letter as an acknowlegement and thanks...recalling the great times he'd had there. I can't say I loved the Kahiki...it was a bit weird...I never thought of it as a terribly high-class establishment. I guess it was more of an "experience" than anything. But I do miss it.

said Chuck on December 21, 2006 1:38 AM.

The Kahiki was an amazing building on so many levels, it could have been preserved as a museum. Really. Many people looked, but they didn't see.
They had no appreciation for the authenticity of the design and decor of that iconic structure. They didn't see the architectural accomplishment of the sheer size and unique slope of the immense roof. They didn't really think about the ornate design that projected from the center of that roof--or know that it had been made by Polynesian craftsman and had a symbolic meaning. They glanced at the decor, but never realized how many items had been collected from Polynesia and incorporated into the design. It was not plastic fish and fake abalone shell and reproduction nautical artifacts; it was all genuine, oftentimes historical, and all carefully selected and brought to Columbus to create the most unique ambiance in the midwest. Did everyone appreciate the rare tall polished wood columns made from a single tree that supported the extraordinary pitched wood-beamed ceiling? Did diners really see the craftmanship that went into making the giant tiki heads at the entrance, or the artistry of the fireplace?
I was fortunate to have grown up on the east side of Columbus, and to have a father who saw it all, and pointed out the endless fascinating details of that one-of-a-kind building on our many family celebrations there.
In this era of cookie-cutter franchised restaurants, it was a crime not to preserve this historic supper club. Before the restaurant closed, it was packed every night with families saying goodbye to their favorite restaurant destination. Families who had been celebrating birthdays and anniversaries and prom nights there for two and three generations. There's no restaurant to replace it, and there never will be. It would be much to expensive to duplicate it's authenticity, and impossible to recreate the history of a real 1960's treasure.

said missthekahiki on January 22, 2007 11:24 AM.

The Kahiki was an amazing building on so many levels, it could have been preserved as a museum. Really. Many people looked, but they didn't see.
They had no appreciation for the authenticity of the design and decor of that iconic structure. They didn't see the architectural accomplishment of the sheer size and unique slope of the immense roof. They didn't really think about the ornate design that projected from the center of that roof--or know that it had been made by Polynesian craftsman and had a symbolic meaning. They glanced at the decor, but never realized how many items had been collected from Polynesia and incorporated into the design. It was not plastic fish and fake abalone shell and reproduction nautical artifacts; it was all genuine, oftentimes historical, and all carefully selected and brought to Columbus to create the most unique ambiance in the midwest. Did everyone appreciate the rare tall polished wood columns made from a single tree that supported the extraordinary pitched wood-beamed ceiling? Did diners really see the craftmanship that went into making the giant tiki heads at the entrance, or the artistry of the fireplace?
I was fortunate to have grown up on the east side of Columbus, and to have a father who saw it all, and pointed out the endless fascinating details of that one-of-a-kind building on our many family celebrations there.
In this era of cookie-cutter franchised restaurants, it was a crime not to preserve this historic supper club. Before the restaurant closed, it was packed every night with families saying goodbye to their favorite restaurant destination. Families who had been celebrating birthdays and anniversaries and prom nights there for two and three generations. There's no restaurant to replace it, and there never will be. It would be much to expensive to duplicate it's authenticity, and impossible to recreate the history of a real 1960's treasure.

said missthekahiki on January 22, 2007 11:28 AM.

What happened to the fireplace. A couple bought it from the tsao family and is currently restoring it in Vermont. They were in the right place at the right time. Someone also got at least one of the Moai and is restoring that as well. You can read up on it at tikicentral. Tiki Farm is going to make a fireplace memorial mug this year, 2007.

said CHris on March 27, 2007 9:08 PM.

I too went to the Kahiki on many occasions.

My time was in the 60's when it first opened, when it truly WAS a cool place in every way.

I was privileged to have been given access to the inner sanctums on private tours as a child.

I got to meet their talking Myna bird named Joe, who would only speak if you were not in the room. They kept him in one of the many offices they had upstairs above the restaurant. My sister and I would stand just outside the door to hear him. What a delight!

I can remember the rain forest they had that went down one entire side of the restaurtant. They kept birds in there as well. The lights were timed to dim at certain intervals; then it would thunder and lightening and even rain. Then the lights would come back up and the birds would come back out from hiding. As a kid, that was facinating and gave me something to do besides bug my mother while she was trying to enjoy her dinner.

They had a spiral staircase behind the gift shop counter that led up to a large storage area.

The banquet rooms downstairs were massive.

The care that was taken with every detail was unbelivable. From the moment you pulled up to the front doors it was magical. Bridges, water, somke from the dry ice and colored lights topped it all off.

It was a happening place in it's time. Lines of people waiiting to get in on weekends. And they had a strict dress code that was enforced. Very high class, for Columbus.

As a chld it was an amazing and wonderful place to go. It was an escape into another world so different from the otherwise very dull existance in a "want to be" big town.

I was so sad when I found out that it's now gone.

said nina on May 8, 2007 1:04 AM.

It's just incomprehensible...no...unconscionable... that a beautiful mid-century building of this caliber, with what appears to have been a pretty thriving business circa 1999 (see Kahiki.com website for a 1999 commercial) would be torn down for a big box store. Kahiki was irreplacable, but a generic overplaced Walgreens is not.

said William Flood on August 13, 2008 8:35 PM.
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