A fond encounter with zombies

The Kahiki (1961-2000), where I killed many a zombie

When I was in college (between 1997 and 2000), I liked to go the Kahiki Supper Club in Columbus, Ohio to have Polynesian food and drinks. 

The Kahiki Supper Club (we just called it “The Kahiki”) looked like a giant ship that had somehow run-aground on the east side of Columbus.  To enter it, you walked between two enormous, flaming Tiki heads.  Then you passed through alcoves of fountains and dry ice, before finally passing into a complete Polynesian village (with roofs on huts and everything), completely contained underneath the giant forest-canopy roof of the building.  The servers wore traditional island garb, and giant Tiki heads lurked everywhere.  Live bands played Polynesian music and also cover songs.  (I remember enjoying a pretty cool version of “Walking on the moon” by the Police, played on steel drums.)     

Maybe you’ve been to a Trader Vic’s before.  I’ve been to a couple, and let me tell you, the Kahiki destroyed Trader Vic’s.  The Kahiki made Trader Vic’s look like a library.  The Kahiki was Trader Vic’s on steroids.  Or maybe on acid. 

The food at the Kahiki was pretty good (my friend Chris swore by a steak with cream cheese inside it), but the real attraction was the atmosphere and the drinks.   Among those drinks was a mysterious and potent cocktail known as The Zombie.  It was served in a stoneware mug shaped like a skull with a handle (that you got to keep!), and contained three kinds of rum.  It was delicious.  There were other great drinks too, like “The Mystery Drink.” 

I played in a ska band in college (which had 9 members) and sometimes after practice or gigs we’d adjourn to the Kahiki and get a couple of Mystery Drinks.  (That is, a couple of Mystery Drinks for the entire band.)  When you ordered a Mystery Drink, the bartender would hit a gong, and a female server in traditional Polynesian garb would ceremonially bring you the drink, which arrived on a bed of smoking dry ice.  It was basically a “rum-slushie” served in a giant bowl with a volcano in the center.  Each Mystery Drink came with four straws, and you’d drink it communally.  (Sometimes it was a race.  Our trombone player, Dave Bukszpan [possibly because of his horn-playing chops] could decimate a Mystery Drink quite quickly, even through a thin little cocktail straw.)  The Mystery Drinks and Zombies were awesome (and powerful!), and were just one of the things that made the Kahiki so cool.  

When it was announced in late 1999 that the Kahiki would be torn-down to make way for a drugstore, some in the community launched an effort to save it, and I wish they had succeeded.  I really think the destruction of the Kahiki was a loss to the entire city.  (I know that I’d be inclined to return to Columbus much more frequently if I knew I could go to the Kahiki.)  At one point, a faction appealed to have the Kahiki declared a historical landmark.  The governing bodies in these matters, however, responded that while “authentic” structures could be declared historic and protected, “imitations” could not… and the Kahiki was deemed to be a replica of a Polynesian supper club, and not an authentic Polynesian supper club.  I never understood that decision.  How could the Kahiki have been any more authentic than it already was?  Perhaps it was the addition of dry ice and colored lighting to the traditional Polynesian setting.  Perhaps it was the live electric music, or the cheesy skull and Tiki-head mugs you got to keep.  Perhaps those things “Americanized” and “de-authenticated” the Kahiki in the eyes of the powers-that-were.

Color it any way you like, but the loss of the Kahiki was a loss to the entire city of Columbus, Ohio.  There was nothing like it in the world.  And it was a great place to drink a zombie.

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