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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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BYO Baby: 4 places to take the kids without compromising adulthood

Linda Lee Baird

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Adulting is hard. And just when you think you’ve maybe got it figured out—with a semblance of stability in your life—you may (in a burst of confidence) decide to have a baby. Surprise! You will never feel like you have anything figured out again. Welcome to parenthood! Can I buy you a drink? But wait. Where can you even get a drink as a parent?

As it turns out, Columbus is a great city for raising kids without having to completely give up the life you had before. Here are a few places you can take your children that are fun for adults, that are welcoming for little ones, and where no one is going to judge you or bat an eye over a dreaded public kid meltdown. Take it from this mother of two: you deserve a break.

16-BIT SHORTY DAY

If you find yourself waking up early on a Sunday, mourning weekends of yore when you actually got to leave the house on Saturday night, 16-Bit’s weekly Shorty Day might be just what you need. Every Sunday from noon to 5 p.m., 16-Bit drops its “21+” requirement in favor of family fun. You can introduce your kids to classic arcade games like Ms. Pacman, Tron, and Centipede, while kids sip on slushies and grownups indulge in authentic adult beverages. Admission and arcade games are free, and pinball games cost a mere 50 cents. While I was there on a recent Sunday, I witnessed a mom in town from Seattle get the high score in Asteroids, proudly showing her teenage daughter the way it’s done.

Photos: Rebecca Tien

16-Bit Shorty Day: Sundays from 12-5 at the 254 S Fourth St. location. Kids are welcome daily until 8 p.m. at the Dublin location with adult supervision. Learn more at 16-bitbar.com.

RAMBLING HOUSE MUSIC BAR’S FAMILY FRIENDLY FIRST FRIDAYS

Rambling House Music Bar serves up zippy sodas with traditional and roots music six nights a week. Once a month, they relax their age requirements for Family Friendly First Fridays, where from 6-8 p.m., kids can enjoy age-appropriate craft beverages while dancing to the tunes. Eileen Wukusick has attended a few Family Friendly First Fridays with her three and six-year-old. She cautions first timers to be prepared for crowds, both in the search for parking and on the dance floor. Rambling House does not serve food, though cake has been known to appear during these events, so you may want to bring along some munchies to complement those sodas, and get ready to dance the sugar o before bedtime.

Rambling House Music Bar is located at 310 Hudson St. Family Friendly First Fridays take place on the first Friday of every month. For more information visit ramblinghousemusic.com.

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STUDIO 35

During many snow days this past winter, Studio 35 came through as a hero for Clintonville parents in search of last-minute entertainment when it offered free screenings of classic family movies. In addition to big- screen entertainment, the booths by the bar in the front room are stocked with board games that appeal to little brains; recently my kids played Operation while I drank a beer and watched the Women’s World Cup on the televisions—a true parenting win. In August, Studio 35 will screen the last two movies in its free summer kids series, The Secret of the Kells and A Long Way Home. Keep an eye on the Facebook page for more events, including last-minute ones. After all, school is just around the corner, which means heat days and parent scrambling can’t be far behind.

Studio 35 is located at 3055 Indianola Ave. Free summer Kids’ Series movies screen on Saturdays at 11 a.m. through August 10. Visit studio35.com for more information.

FRANKLIN PARK CONSERVATORY CHILDREN’S GARDEN

Franklin Park Conservatory has always been an awesome place to take kids—mine never tire of walking through the rainforest and desert, especially in the middle of gray Ohio winters. When the two-acre Children’s Garden opened last summer, however, the conservatory jumped from a “nice place to visit” to an “absolutely must do” on my list of family-friendly Columbus attractions. From the second kids enter the garden through a special tunnel that’s just their size, it takes on a magical aura. As they explore, they’ll find everything from fairies to musical instruments to giant hammocks to, yes, all kinds of native-Ohio plants. If that’s not enough, the Learning Pavillion hosts regular activities and special guests, so all of you can get even more out of your visit.

The Scotts Miracle-Gro Foundation Children’s Garden at Franklin Park Conservatory is open year-round. Admission to the garden is included in the conservatory’s ticket price: $19 for adults and

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Ultimate Columbus Summer Bucket List

614now

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Hello and welcome to summertime! Today is the longest day of the year—plenty of time for you to sit down with your family and/or friends to map out your bucket list for this summer. Or…you could get a start on ours!

We’ve put together the ultimate list of summer activities in Columbus to ensure you have a summer full of fun. Just remember to wear sunscreen!

Go berry picking

Nothing tastes better than something you’ve worked for. And nothing tastes sweeter than something picked right from the dirt. Don the sun hats and sturdy shoes because we’re about to put you to work for your fruit! Here are more than 20 farms offering U-pick berry programs for strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, cherries, and peaches in central Ohio.

Support local growers at neighborhood farmers’ markets

Do you know where your produce is from? Odd are if you don’t purchase them straight from a farmer, you’ve got no clue. Fuel your summer with goods pulled right from central Ohio dirt at local farmers’ markets!

Score a beer mug at ComFest

Besides epic memories, the best takeaway from ComFest is always the brightly-color plastic beer mug. Just remember to drink responsibly! Click here to read about the recent drama that went down with ComFest.

Celebrate freedom at Red White & Boom

Columbus’ biggest Fourth of July celebration will be returning to downtown on July 3 for the largest fireworks display in the Buckeye State. Arrive early for the parade and stay late for the party!

Spend a day at the Columbus Zoo & Aquarium

This one is an absolute must. There’s nothing like a warm summer day spent taking in the amazing animals at one of the best zoos in the country. Make sure to wave at the polar bears for us!

Gaze at the stars at John Glenn Astronomy Park

The John Glenn Astronomy Park is dedicated to sparking an interest in science, learning, and exploration by sharing with visitors the wonders of the sky, both day and night. Make sure to plan a trip to JGAP on a clear night to gaze at the wonderment of our universe.

Take in an outdoor movie

NightLight 614, a 21+ social outdoor film series on the banks of the Scioto featuring some of Columbus’s Best local food trucks, and craft beer & wine. Easton’s Movies by Moonlight series is celebrating its 20th anniversary with a lineup bigger and better than ever!

NightLight 614

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Spend a day at the drive-in

Since the 1950s, the South Drive-In at 3050 S. High St. has been Columbus premier destination for late night, big screen movie showings under the stars. And since the 1970s, it’s been the largest central Ohio location for…flea markets? Yes, indeed. Click here to read more!

Eat as much ice cream as humanly possible

Ice Cream is a pillar of summer. But where to begin? We think this list of the best alt ice cream shops in Columbus would be a sweet place to start.

Chow down at the Jazz & Rib Festival

If you’re not elbow-deep in BBQ sauce at least one time this summer, you’re not eating correctly. There is absolutely no better place to put your manners aside and let your carnivorous nature shine than at the Jazz & Rib Festival. Hot ribs, cool jazz.

Stay afloat at Trapper John’s

Leash up the pooch and buckle up your life jacket for an afternoon at Trapper John’s Canoe Livery! Enjoy canoeing, kayaking and tubing on the State and National Scenic Big Darby Creek.

Chill on some patios

Ditch the AC for once and take advantage of these few fleeting months when Ohio offers a tolerable climate. We’ve got dog-friendly patios, High Street patios, NW Columbus patios, seven perfect patio pairings, and, of course, the best drinking patio as voted on by you!

Grab the perfect pic at a rooftop bar

Columbus is quickly becoming a rooftop bar city. With the recent additions from Lincoln Social, Juniper, and VASO, we’ve got eight high-up drinking establishments you need to patronize this summer.

Bonus: All The Way Up: My experience at Lincoln Social rooftop

Lincoln Social

Have the perfect picnic

The grass is lush, the butterflies are flying, and the sun is shining—the perfect al fresco dining experience. We’ve put together pairings of the city’s top places to fill up your basket accompanied by the best nearby park for the picnic of your dreams!

Sing along to a free show at Columbus Commons

Each summer, the Columbus Commons is your destination for free live music. From local bands like Doc Robinson, to national acts like Boyz II Men, the outdoor amphitheater is where you need to be.

Pitch a tent

The campers, RVS, and pop-up tents will be returning to the outdoors this summer, serving as a home away from home for those looking to escape the city for a few days. It’s time to get outdoors, enjoy nature, roast some marshmallows over the fire, and get off the grid if not for a couple moments of bliss.

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Cannonball into a pool

Leave your layers and insecurities at home, because it’s time to give the pool whatever body you’ve got! Just remember to pack the good snacks, okay? Click here for 30 Columbus pools to beat the heat.

Let the kids loose at splash pads around town

Splashpads: Free and fun water spraygrounds without the worry of deep bottoms or high dives. We don’t know about you but to us, that seems like a home run, nay, grand slam. This summer, diversify your cool down routine by hanging at one of Columbus’ many exciting splashpads.

Awe at the beauty of Franklin Park Conservatory

Did you know Admission to Franklin Park Conservatory & Botanical Gardens is FREE to all residents of Franklin County, the first Sunday of every month, before 5 pm. And did you know FPC has a farmers’ market? Plan your trip now!

Stop and smell the roses at the Whetstone Park of Roses

The Whetstone Park of Roses is just begging for you to stop and smell. It’s the perfect place to pitch your hammock, take photos, and to enjoy the beauty of one of the largest public rose gardens in the U.S.

Sunbathe at Alum Creek Beach

It may not be the white sand beaches of Mexico, but we’ll take what we can get. This public beach can be your seaside vacation if you have an imagination and tons of salty pretzels. A beach is a beach, right?!

Take your dog for a dip

We can’t be sure what dogs dream, but we’d imagine it’s a lot of neon yellow tennis balls, frisbees, bones, and playing fetch in ice cold water. Make your pup’s dream come true this summer with these awesome places to take your dog for a dip.

Walnut Woods Metro Park

Eat 10 cent hot dogs at a Clippers Dime-a-Dog Night

Dime-a-Dog Nights are an important staple of summer, especially on the firework nights. But you can’t go into this eating excursion without a game plan! Check out our Columbus Clippers Dime-a-Dog Night Survival Guide to expertly navigate your hot dog hay day.

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614 Summer Road Trip: Camping, canoes, and crockpots in Mohican State Park

Regina Fox

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Labor Day is approaching, which will quickly be followed by Christmas shopping. So now is the time to plan your last vacation before your calendar fills with holidays. No need to empty out your wallet, though. “The Heart of It All” has plenty of fun on the cheap, whether you’re looking for relaxation or excitement. So buckle your seat belt for a quick Ohio tour and everything the season has to offer.

I’ve been going to Mohican State Park on Memorial Day weekend for all 24 years of my life. This tradition of my hometown, err…village long predates my existence, even. For one weekend every year, a convoy of trucks and trailers carries nearly half of Arcadia, Ohio’s population (590 in total according to the 2010 census) 100 miles southeast to an oasis deep in the Mohican wilderness. And the best part besides the great outdoors, hot dogs, and excuse to not wash your hair all weekend? You get your kicks for cheap! Here’s how you can stretch $100 to have a truly memorable weekend getaway out in the sticks.

From Columbus, the park is only about 80 miles, so you’ll only have about $20 in gas. Your GPS will wind you through the Amish countryside, down old dirt roads, and through amber waves of grain before you will completely lose cell service—an unsuspecting perk of the trip before you even arrive. There are many campgrounds within Mohican State Park, but over the last several years, we’ve set anchor at Wilderness. (What I actually mean is that the Arcadia group has been kicked out of every other campground over the years. We run a little rowdy, to say the least). Campsites there cost anywhere from $25 to $44, depending on electricity hookup and time of year. So, once you pitch the tent or park the trailer, it’s time to crack open your first adult beverage and let the good times roll.

With traveling and setting up camp, the first day has the potential to bring on some stress or anxiety. Let your problems drift away with a tubing trip down the mighty Mohican River. If you forgot to pack a tube or means to in ate one, don’t worry! Rip off the sheet you just stretched across your air mattress and prepare for the most comfortable float this side of Put-in-Bay’s Jet Express. Climbing up the muddy riverbank to your campsite is probably the closest you’ve come to fulfilling your New Year’s fitness resolution, so you’ll need to eat. Staying with the theme of simplicity on the first night, don your pie irons and make pizza sandwiches! Want to class it up a notch? Swap out Kroger brand shredded mozzarella for smoked gouda and trade pepperoni for Soppressata. Wash it down with an ice cold Busch Light and you’ve got yourself a tasty meal way on the south side of $10. Round out the evening with a friendly game of beersbie, cornhole, or thumper around the fire. You’ll fall asleep to the soothing sound of crickets and tree frogs. Just remember to pack away all your food before calling it a night—the local raccoons are not shy.

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On day two, you’ll wake up with a slight backache from your lumpy mattress, but eager to get the fun started. Head up to the front office and reserve a spot on the 5-mile canoe ride. You may be enticed by the 10-mile trip, or maybe even the 20-mile one, but between stopping off to explore the woods, picking up the wreckage from a tip, and bathroom breaks, you’re still in for a long day on the river with the 5-miler, trust me. Make sure you bring a couple bucks because turning down a Drumstick at a river-side ice cream stand is something you should never put yourself through. If you split the $20 cost of the canoe with your boat mate and factor in $2.25 for treats, you’ve got yourself a 6-hour activity that’ll only bust you $12.25.

Once you’ve finally washed ashore, it’s time for dinner. Rather than wasting precious Mohican time hunched over a cutting board or cooktop, we like to throw a crockpot potluck where each camp brings a dish to share, buffet-style. So far, you’ve enjoyed $92.25 worth of fun. That means you’ve got a whole $7.75 left in your budget to splurge on ingredients for your contribution! So give the people what they want: a dip. Buffalo chicken, Mexican street corn dip, spinach artichoke—it truly doesn’t matter, just as long as the main ingredient is cheese. And just like the melted goodness you scoop out of the crockpot, the evening will slowly stretch into night.

They say the best things in life are free and this is especially true with camping. On your last night in Mohican Wilderness, do absolutely nothing. Sit around the fire with your fellow campers, embrace the sounds of your laughter bouncing off the tall trees lining the riverbank, and really soak up each other’s company; it is then that you will truly embrace the spirit of Mohican camping. You may not come away with the next greatest Instagram photo, or a wildly unique souvenir (although you can dip your own wax candle at the Mohican Wilderness craft cabin), but there’s a reason I’ve visited the park for 24 consecutive years. I hope you find your reason, too.

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