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The Fraternal Order of Moai: Tiki culture enthusiasts, charitable organization

J.R. McMillan

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The unexpected closing of the Grass Skirt Tiki Room later this month isn’t the first time local tiki fans have been broken-hearted.

When the Kahiki shuttered its doors nearly two decades ago, it wasn’t just the end of an era in Columbus. The Polynesian-themed restaurant was the largest of its kind in the country, and nothing matching its quirky architectural grandeur has been seen since.

Faithful fans still seek coveted collectables, scouring thrift stores and flea markets for rare finds. But there’s also a secret sect of tiki enthusiasts hiding in plain sight, quietly curating vintage kitsch while anonymously funding worthy causes from coast to coast. They call themselves the Fraternal Order of Moai and their members remain a mystery.

“When the Kahiki finally closed, many of us were in shock that it was actually gone. But for me, something kind of snapped,” revealed Matt “Kuku Ahu” Thatcher, one of the founders of the obscure order who prefers to go by his Moai moniker. “People wanted to hold onto a piece of the Kahiki by building their own basement tiki bars. But there were three of us who were less interested in finding the artifacts than the people who shared this same strange obsession.”

Kyle Asperger

Nostalgia often comes at a premium price. One of those old Kahiki menus on eBay will set you back more than any entrée did back in the day, and a matchbook might cost you more than a carton of smokes. Even a ceramic tiki tumbler is more expensive than any drink it ever held. For committed collectors, these aren’t just treasures and trinkets. They’re art from a bygone age.

“We thought there might be a dozen of us, enough to get together for backyard luaus,” Ahu chided.

“I joked that maybe we should make it a real club with fezzes, like the Shriners. It sounded crazy, but the idea stuck.”

The Fraternal Order of Moai is organized much like independent islands scattered across the vast Pacific, each with unique customs and rituals rooted in a common ancient culture. Individual groups each choose a cause or charity at the local level, but the Moai still operate as a self-described “pirate democracy” with elections and major decisions all coming down to a vote among the entire membership.

What seemed silly at the time has become something of a movement with ten chapters nationwide and at-large members worldwide. Some chapters were started by folks with Columbus ties. Others emerged independently, inspired by the capital city’s quiet tiki revival.

“Our group is secretive and selective, but our events are open to everyone,” Ahu explained. “People who come regularly, regardless of whether they’re members or not, become family we look forward to seeing just as much as we do each other.”

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Their enigmatic membership is more than a secret handshake. “Tourist” is the tongue-in-cheek terminology for active attendees who are still outside the order. Those who think they’re worthy must earn the support of existing Moai and pass a series of challenges, which are also secret. Akin to the Shriners, the Moose Lodge, and similar animal orders, questions of character are answered through a process outlined on their website, coyly branded the Port of the Initiate.

The most obvious evidence of the Moai’s influence is also hiding in plain sight, surrounding unsuspecting guests at the Grass Skirt Tiki Room. When Columbus Food League decided downtown was overdue for a tiny tropical oasis, the Moai were early and eager to offer their insights and assistance. Members carved and cast much of the bar’s décor themselves, nearly every mask and lamp that makes the contemporary tiki bar feel older and more authentic than its seven- year history otherwise suggests. Ahu even admits he may have had a hand in developing the cocktail menu. (He’s a modest Moai.)

The most iconic contribution to the Grass Skirt is undeniably the giant concrete monkey fountain named George, which used to grace the entrance of the Kahiki. With support from the Moai, and literally a last minute commitment of additional funds from the bar, George was saved from the same demise as fellow monuments from the fabled restaurant.

“We knew if we didn’t get him, he’d either end up in a private collection instead of the public eye, or rotting in a field,” Ahu noted. Point of fact, the enormous Easter Island statues ended up essentially abandoned, while a short search on YouTube reveals the fate of the famous fireplace still sitting outdoors under a tarp. “After the auction, we went to pick him up at Kahiki frozen foods and realized they’d actually constructed the building around him. They offered to cut him into four pieces to remove him, but the auction said pickup was outside. You wouldn’t let someone cut a Corvette into four pieces if you were told you could pick it up in the parking lot?”

Somehow George ended up outside for pickup as promised. The Moai don’t know how he got there or if walls or windows were removed to do it. It seems even George has his secrets.

Aside from “Tiki Tuesdays,” the only time local members really surface publicly is once a year in August for the annual Hula Hop, a charity event that raises money for Cure CMD, an organization that funds efforts to treat congenital muscular dystrophy, and serves as an annual call to prospective members, some of whom aren’t even old enough to remember the Polynesian longhouse that used to be off East Broad Street.

“We didn’t think we could pull off an all-day tiki event in Columbus when we started, so it was a ‘Hot Rod Hula Hop,’ with classic cars and we brought in all of the decorations to turn a regular bar into a tiki bar,” Ahu explained. “But now with the Grass Skirt, it’s become just the ‘Hula Hop’ with five live bands, vendors, and food trucks. Instead of selling tickets or charging a cover, folks come for free, buy drinks and make donations directly. People know where their money goes.” The Fraternal Order of Moai, whose exact ranks remain unknown, has funded several studies and drug tests through Cure CMD. But recognition and notoriety were never the goal.

“It was a cockamamie idea that started out more as performance art, but it turned into something more,” Ahu admitted. “Now we’re a registered nonprofit and pretty darned legit. Tiki bars are popping up across the country, even in Europe. But in Columbus, even after the Kahiki closed, they never really went away.”

The Hula Hop on August 10 at Grass Skirt will go forward as planned. For details on the event and the Fraternal Order of Moai, see fraternalorderofmoai.org.

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Weekend Lookout: Harvest Fair, brewery parties, socccer

Mitch Hooper

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Welcome back to another installment of The Weekend Lookout, my fellow weekend warriors. As we get through the last few weekdays and gear up for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, here are the happenings and events that are worth checking out before heading out. Hang in there, ya'll! The weekend is almost here.

Saturday

Land-Grant 5th Anniversary Party @ Land-Grant Brewing Co.

Happy five years, Land-Grant! To celebrate the occasion, Land-Grant will be hosting a variety of musical acts such as Hebdo and Zoo Trippin'. Chow down on some Ray Ray's barbecue, watch the Buckeyes kick off in the evening, and of course, drink all the Land-Grant brews you can.

Harvest Fair @ The Columbus Commons

Looking to get your fall on without leaving the city? Look no further. Head over to the Commons on Saturday for the free-to-attend Harvest Fest complete with fall-themed activities for all ages. Additionally, there will be a pumpkin patch with a $2 entry fee.

Talk It Out: Endless Summer Fest @ Misfit Manor

This indie music festival will feature the likes of many local acts including Girl Fox and snarls. The day kicks off at 4:07 p.m. sharp, so don't be late!

Sunday

Olde Towne East Pop-up Market on Bryden Rd.

On Bryden Rd. on Sunday, 40 different vendors will line-up for a pop-up market in OTE. Everything from matcha from Potion Matcha to lunch from Street Thyme Food Truck will be available for visitors, and it's free-to-attend.

Columbus Crew v. Philadelphia Union @ Mapfre Stadium

Not only is our faithful Crew taking on Philadelphia this Sunday, Troubled Sapiens will be performing before and during the match! The first performance will be in the parking lot from 3:15 p.m. to 5 p.m. and the final performance will take place at halftime in the stadium.

FBCC Presents: Movie Night + Beer Tasting @ Grandview Drafthouse and Theater

In collaboration with Fat Babes Club of Columbus, Grandview Drafthouse and Theater will play host to a beer tasting and movie night. Here visitors will sip craft beer, wine, and ciders as they watch comedy clips of "fat" performers throughout time. The day kicks off at 2 p.m., but FBCC recommends showing up 15-20 minutes early.

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The Weekend Lookout: 9 different ways to spend your weekend in the city

Mitch Hooper

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Summer is fleeting, but luckily fall is on the way. We are entering that Goldie Locks zone of weather which means it's the perfect time to get up, and get out. From a big music jamboree with Doc Robinson on Saturday to Tyler, The Creator stopping off at Express Live, here are the events and happenings to keep on your radar.

Saturday

Doc Robinson's Family Jamboree @ Woodlands Tavern

If you trust our taste with The Turbos, then having you trust us once more with Doc Robinson shouldn't be a stretch. Here's a little taste of what Doc Robinson will bring to the stage on Saturday. The Family Jamboree kicks off at 11 a.m. on Saturday and will include a large roster of local acts including Parker Louis and Hebdo.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_4QdxpbrZgg

German Village Oktoberfest @ Wunderbar

You already know the drill here: fill your steins full of Great Lakes Brewing beers, chow down on German classics from places like Pierogi Mountain, and don't even worry about the cover charge because this is a free-to-attend event.

Can Release: Opera Cream Stout @ Platform Beer Co.

New beer, who dis? Platform Beer Co. is breaking out a new can this Saturday at the taproom where they collaborated with The BonBonerie for this Opera Cream Stout. Platform will have beers ready for purchase around 10 a.m. so come early, and come thirsty.

Sunday

Kölsch In The [email protected] Gemüt Biergarten

It's a beer release party in the Garten! Gemüt Biergarten is breaking out its newest brew Huginn & Muninn Kölsch from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. for just $3 in the Garten. Gemüt describes this beer as a light-bodied German ale that is malt-forward with a slightly fruity flavor.

Tyler, The Creator @ Express Live

Tyler, The Creator has been on a new level in terms of music popularity. His albums Igor and Flower Boy have received plenty of critical acclaim, and his unique sound landed him as the artist who created the soundtrack to the newest iteration of How The Grinch Stole Christmas. The often off-the-walls rapper will be taking over Express Live on Sunday evening with doors opening at 5:30 p.m.

It: Chapter 2 and Hustlers @ South Drive-in

Going to a drive-in to see an It movie, ah. It feels like the good old days again. Was I around for those days? Maybe not, but the nostalgic vibes still stand. Head over to the South Drive-in for a double feature of the newest It: Chapter 2 as well as Hustlers. Everything kicks off around 7:15 p.m., and the Drive-in suggests showing up an hour early to be safe.

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A Day In Delaware: Horse racing, kayaking, food trucks, cocktails

Mitch Hooper

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It's horse racing season in Delaware at the Little Brown Jug and that means two things: you're either about to lose, or currently losing.

The beloved horse racing at Little Brown Jug, affectionately known as LBJ, kicked off on Sunday and will run until Thursday. If you're looking to get in on the action, here is where you can buy tickets.

But, if you've already spent all your gambling money and just need a break from the horses, there are plenty of alternatives available in Delaware. Here are three spots to keep in mind as you explore our not-so-distant neighbor to the north.

Kayaking at Alum Creek

Whether you hit it big on your bet, or lost it all in the first race, Alum Creek is perfect because it's free. While the views on the walking trails are great, the views from a kayak are even better. The water there is very calm with the exception of a boat passing through every once in a while making it a nice spot for beginners.

And if you're a veteran on the water, the lake is relatively large meaning you can make an entire day out of it. I recommend packing a cooler with some picnic food—peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, string cheese with crackers, and some fresh fruit—and making pit stops at some of the beaches right off the lake. And, just so I can say I told you so, leave your phone in the car, or in a water proof bag.

Dinner At The Food Truck Depot

The Food Truck Depot is a relatively new eatery and bar in Delaware and it's sure to have something for everyone. If you, or someone you're with, is a vegetarian/vegan, Encompass Eatery is a familiar face at the Food Truck Depot and they offer plant-based dishes such as a grilled caprese sandwich, or straight up carnivorous sandwiches like the hearty roast beef sandwich. Other food trucks that have made appearances include Tortilla, Red Door BBQ, and Deja Food. Also at the Food Truck Depot is a full service bar with craft selections and cocktails as well as a large sand volleyball court if you need to burn some calories.

Drinks On Sandusky St.

Delaware is absolutely loaded with options when it comes to drinking in the evening. Looking to taste some bourbon and whiskey? Check out Opa Grill And Tavern which boasts the largest bourbon selection in Ohio. Or perhaps you're more of a beer person (you are from Columbus after all). Barley Hopsters is a beer lovers heaven as it offers large coolers stocked with local, regional, and national craft beers. Build a six-pack to take home, or sip on your beer of choice while you ponder your next option.

Not too far from Barley Hopsters is Restoration Brew Worx which offers a variety of their in-house brews. And if you're looking for an elevated cocktail, 1808 American Bistro is on 29 E. Winter St—just a stone's throw away from Sandusky St. On the flip side, if you're just looking for a dive bar to call home for the evening, The Backstretch will have you covered with cans of PBRs and Tullamore Dew.

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