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Columbus: The Legend of the Great Kahiki

  • j

For the past year, I had been fantasizing about making an excursion to the legendary Kahiki Lounge in Columbus, OH. Then, I discovered that it had closed. The horror, the horror!

Please share your reminiscences!

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  1. My absolute favorite thing was the bogus plastic rainforest behind glass, with the flashing electric lights and tinny recorded thunder. To make it look like it was raining, they would run water down the other side of the glass.

    The owners dismantled and stored everything with the hopes of re-opening somewhere downtown in two years or so. They had a great flush of interest in their last few weeks, crowded all the time. You might be able to find their products in the frozen-foods case, they're trying to expand that part of the business. Did you look for Kahiki.com?

    6 Replies
    1. re: Alex

      That was the other hot spot in town. They used to have a big picture of Woody Hayes when you walked in with a message like, "In all the world there's only one." (Woody used to have his weekly press conferences there and used to take high school recruits there to impress them).
      I recall that place as also being tacky also and quite expensive.

      1. re: BUCKEYE

        Boy, you are really taking me back. When you were in Cols, did they still have the Waterworks restaurant downtown where you were seated in bathtubs, etc? I thought that was absolutely cool when I was 18.

        1. re: jen kalb

          I remember the menus were on the back of small replicas of manhole covers. Don't recall sitting in bathtubs though. The walls were adorned with blueprints of water mains etc.

          1. re: jen kalb

            I went to the Waterworks when my parents came to visit a few times. It was an unusual atmosphere to say the least and I recall the food being passable.
            The Jai Lai was THE restaurant in town then though.

            From what I've read Columbus has really, really changed. A lot more restaurants and a lot more variety. For example when my parents visited there was only one real sit down Italian restaurant in town to go to and one sit down Chinese place, Jong Meas, to go to.
            Do you remember Max's downtown (not Max and Ermas)?

            1. re: BUCKEYE

              I have fond memories of Jong Mea - the food quality I remember was excellent and stood up well to NY chinatown food - a real surprise. My family were not high rollers and were teetotalers, so ritzy places like Jai Lai were never in our ballpark. I did like Marzetti's restaurant downtown tho. And Max, I am sorry, no. Since I have only visited the Cols. area since leaving for college in 69, my more recent memories are limited - but I agree, the food scene has become amazingly diverse compare to what it was even 10 years ago, let alone 30, when there was only one oriental grocery in the whole metro area and the chinese restaurants could be counted on one hand.

              Where are you chowing nowadays, Buckeye?

              1. re: jen kalb

                Jong Meas was a favorite especially since it was open unusually late for off campus (past midnite). I remember the maitre d' had a real raspy voice and when he sat you it was hard to understand him.

                When I was there there was one bagel place (Bexley I think) until Bernie's opened on campus (mediocre at best).
                I think there was a deli named Fogel's (also Bexley?) which had passable corned beef etc.
                I wish I could remember the street Max's was on-it ran perpindicular to High St downtown.
                Do you remember Warren's, a sandwich shop that was only open overnight on High St north of campus? It had about 10 spots at counter only?
                It's hard to believe what happened to Columbus. They may even have decent pizza there now!

                I am back in NY, the only place I've lived except for those OSU years. I live in Queens.

      2. Alas too many Maitais and Navy Grogs. No rememberances.

        Holly Moore
        HollyEats.Com

        Link: http://www.HollyEats.Com

        1. Worked at WaterWorks for about 5 years off & on from '80 - '85. Still have large number of alumni friends scattered around the country, along with a number of "extended" Cols restaurant community folks. Am actually looking at one of their manhole cover menus in my office at the Country Club I manage in central California right now. Searched for reference today because a member was in who knew I worked there & was asking whether the manhole covers were ever available for sale on the internet. Doesn't appear so - think most of them were snapped up when the business closed by current & former staffers. Club WaWa was owned & operated by a partnership of 2 men who had studied Restaurant Hospitality at Cornell, Ferg Janssen & Gary Morfit. At one point they had built their portfolio up to maybe 4 or 5 properties, including in Cincinnati & Hartford. Think Gary is retired from the industry, Ferg is still dabbling as consultant (at least as year or so ago). Kahiki, Jai Lai, Warren's, Max's were all part of our regular rotation. We spent good amount of time at the Blue Danube up north of campus. There was a Mexican place up around 4th Street somewhere we used to like, and at least one Vietnamese spot on north campus (this was in late '80s). There used to be a hole-in-the-wall Chinese place just north of downtown on High Street (can't remember name...) that Esquire magazine said had best hot & sour soup in US - it was really very good. WaterWorks was an important & formative part of my 20's decade, and became springboard for a lifetime career in the industry. Rick Evans

          1. A local restaurant owner, Liz Lessner opened a tribute bar a few years back called " The Grass Skirt"; she has a number of pieces from the original Lounge.