Friday, January 9, 2015

Kahiki Memories

I mentioned earlier in the week how I thought that Columbus was stuck in a 1950s time capsule when I was going to Ohio State in the late 1970s.

Columbus was indeed a slice of Middle America, making it a wonderful place for a nostalgia buff to explore back then. It was full of interesting examples of roadside Americana. Besides the ubiquitous White Castles, there were Big Bear grocery stores, classic drive-in restaurants (such as Jerry's Drive-in), 1950s bowling alleys with garish neon signs, the South Drive-in Theater, vintage Mom-and-Pop motels (such as the 40 Motel), and plenty of great, kitchy signage seemingly everywhere (click here to see some great photos on the website).

Vintage postcard
And then there was the Kahiki.

In case you've never heard of it, the Kahiki was a well-known Polynesian supper club. Built in 1960 during the height of the Tiki craze, the Kahiki's outside was designed to look like a Polynesian outrigger canoe. Two giant Easter Island heads topped with flaming pots flanked the entrance.

The inside of the restaurant resembled a Tahitian village and rainforest, complete with birds and simulated thunder and lightning. Guests sipped exotic rum drinks out of tiki mugs, all to the beat of exotic South Seas lounge music.

1962 Drink Menu
The Rat Pack would have been very much at home at the Kahiki, and the place was host to many famous celebrities.

Unfortunately, I never ate at the Kahiki while I was on campus. I didn't have a car the first few years, and during that time rarely got over to that side of town.

But when I finally did have a car on campus, I started to explore the city – and accidentally drove by the Kahiki one night. I remember seeing the two large, flaming Easter Island heads outside this outlandish building – and wondering what the heck was going on in there.

Sadly, the Kahiki closed in 2000 to make way for a Walgreens. Before it closed down for good, I drove down to Columbus to have lunch there, and to grab some Kahiki souvenirs.

I managed to grab some matches (below).
I also found a stack of these brochures (below).
Since my visit, I also picked up a Kahiki mug somewhere (below). You can see a similar mug on the inside spread of the brochure.
Today the Kahiki name lives on through its namesake frozen Asian foods, available at your local grocery store.

Feeling bad about not being able to visit the Kahiki? Fortunately, a nice couple from Columbus filmed some great home movie footage during a 1999 visit to the restaurant, and posted it on YouTube (below).

To find out more about the Kahiki, here's a great Columbus Dispatch article written on the tenth anniversary of its closing. And the website has a nice history (and great photos) of the restaurant here.

Vintage ad
(Courtesy of


-Alan D Hopewell said...

I remember going past that place sometime in the 70's, and wondering, "What in the @#&* is THAT?"

Anonymous said...

I loved the Kahiki Supper club. As college students we only went on rare occasions, usually someone's birthday. The food was great. I loved the lightning, thunder and rain inside. Oh yes and that fire place. I remember going with a group of friends every so often and even a few OSU Football players went with us. Great memories and food. I buy their frozen dinner meals today.