Connect with us

Things To Do

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

J.R. McMillan

Published

on

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.”

BROUGHT TO YOU BY

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.

Continue Reading
Comments

Things To Do

Art After Stonewall showcases defining work by LBGTQ artists

Avatar

Published

on

The idea to curate an exhibition commemorating the Stonewall riots started over dinner. After working together on Shared Intelligence: American Painting and the Photograph, artist and art historian Jonathan Weinberg and Columbus Museum of Art Executive Director Nannette Maciejunes were “being the art geeks they are, when they started talking about doing something else together,” says Melissa Ferguson, CMA’s director of marketing and communications. “They were looking for something relevant and fun to do.”

It was 2011, and with the 50th anniversary of the 1969 Stonewall Riots still eight years away, Weinberg and Maciejunes began compiling their wish list of artworks from museums and private collectors around the country. Because it can take a long time for those requests to be granted, they started early, in 2016. They soon realized that they were going to have the largest and most comprehensive exhibition for the 50th anniversary of Stonewall, because they were getting all the pieces they requested.

Photo by Diana Davies (all photos provided by Columbus Museum of Art)

Art After Stonewall, 1969-1989 will come home to CMA on March 6, following stops in New York and Miami. CMA curated the groundbreaking exhibit, which ARTnews named one of the best and most important exhibitions of the decade. This expansive survey features more than 200 works of art and related visual materials that explore the profound impact of the LGBTQ civil rights movement on the art world.

“It’s well over 200 objects, and the range of objects in the exhibition and the artists is incredibly broad and diverse,” explained Daniel Marcus, Roy Lichtenstein Curatorial Fellow at CMA, who was responsible for the installation in Miami and New York. “I think people in Columbus will be taken with the depth of opportunity this exhibition affords. There are a range of emotional experiences the show offers; I think it warrants repeat visits.”

Ferguson says that lesser-known artists, such as Vaginal Davis, are represented equally alongside celebrated artists like Keith Haring. “So many artists in the show are under-represented in a way,” said Marcus. “Although I am not sure all the artists would see that as a deficit.” Another notable theme the show highlights is the extraordinary explosion of activism after the Stonewall riots of 1969.

Photo of Daniel Ware by Peter Hujar

“For many of the artists who became activists, the idea of having a gallery or museum career was sort of anathema to how they saw themselves as ambassadors of visual culture,” Marcus said. He explained that this creates a palpable tension in the exhibition that stems from the post-Stonewall politics of visibility. It is a combination of “coming out with sexuality and organizing with other people, and on the other hand, a sort of measured arms-length approach to the official institutions of the art world.”

The exhibition has received critical acclaim in New York and Miami, where it opened in 2019. Although Marcus has worked in the New York art world and has seen his fair share of exhibition openings, he says the Art After Stonewall exhibition opening at the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Art in New York was like none he had ever experienced, in that it was “kind of like a family reunion.”

“Because [the exhibition] takes us through the 1980s, there’s a perception that many of the artists aren’t still with us, but so many artists are,” Marcus says. “The atmosphere at the opening was totally enthused and a familial scene. It was amazing, especially for us who had worked on the show for so long. It was incredible to see people taking photographs with their own work, especially for the artists who have struggled to gain recognition.”

Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat by Tseng Kwong Chi

Just because the exhibition has already opened in New York and Miami, don’t think that Columbus is getting the short end of the stick. In fact, Marcus said the Columbus tour stop and grand finale of the exhibition is really the definitive version of the show, the way it was originally intended.

In addition, it will include several projects that reflect Columbus histories. For example, there will be a section of works by local gay icon and trailblazer Corbett Reynolds, owner of the now-shuttered club Rudely Elegant in Franklinton that was host to many outrageous all-night parties in the late 1970s and 80s.

CMA also commissioned an audio installation from a collective of local artists to reflect on their own community with an eye toward the city’s nightlife. Artists involved include Emma Levesque-Schaefer, Bobby T Luck, Twinkle Panda and Prince Shakur. This project explores the diversity of queer histories and stories in Columbus and will interject a range of voices—including artists, activists, DJs, and dancers—into the exhibition galleries. “We felt it would be important to include Columbus histories in the show because these histories matter to the larger story we’re telling,” Marcus said. “It’s going to be so amazing; minds will be blown.”

Art After Stonewall will be on display at the Columbus Museum of Art from March 6 – May 31. To learn more, visit columbusmuseum.org/art-after-stonewall.

Continue Reading

Things To Do

TBT: The rise and fall of Cooper Stadium

Mike Thomas

Published

on

Believe it or not, this year will mark the twelfth season of Clippers baseball in Huntington Park. As Columbus celebrates a decade in its new home for baseball, let's take a look back at the Stadium that gave the Clippers (among other C-Bus teams) their start.

Opening in in 1931 as the home of the minor-league affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals, Red Bird Stadium (as it was then called) was constructed using the same blueprints as Red Wing Stadium in Rochester, New York. In Red Bird Stadium's inaugural game, the 1932 season opener, more than 15,000 fans watched on as Columbus obliterated the Louisville Colonels, winning 11-2.

Known for its formidably-long outfield, legend has it that Joe DiMaggio and Ralph Kiner were the only players who managed to hit the ball out of the stadium's 457-foot left field.

Another team would make the stadium its home in 1955, when the Ottowa A's relocated to Columbus. The new Columbus team was dubbed The Jets, with the stadium renamed Jets Stadium. And so it remained until 1970, when Columbus officials refused to renovate the stadium at the expense of taxpayers. The owners of the Jets moved the team to Charleston, West Virginia, and Jets Stadium lay dormant for six years.

1977 saw the dawn of Columbus baseball as we know it today, when the International League granted a new franchise to the city and the Columbus Clippers were formed. Named for Harold Cooper, a baseball promoter who worked to preserve the old stadium and bring minor league ball back to Columbus, the home of The Clippers was officially dubbed Cooper Stadium in 1984. The Coop would remain The Clippers' home until the relocation to Huntington Park in 2009.

Aside from baseball, Cooper Stadium played host to many memorable events throughout the years. President Franklin D. Roosevelt kicked off his first campaign in the stadium in 1932. The Columbus Bullies, a professional football team from the American Football league, played games there from 1939 to 1942. The Coop even hosted concerts from acts like Aerosmith, Bob Dylan, and Garth Brooks over the years.

Today, few signs remain of Cooper Stadium's former glory. The grounds are overgrown with weeds and much of the structure has fallen to disrepair. The site has become a destination for graffiti taggers and abandonment tourists alike. Proposed plans from a developer to convert the grounds into a racetrack have apparently stalled, leaving the future of the old stadium uncertain.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3PlN_CKTTC8

While thinking back on the history of the Coop is bittersweet given it's current decaying state, there are still plenty of bright spots from Ohio's sports history to enjoy. Visit The Ohio History Connection this weekend to explore their new exhibit titled Ohio-Champion of Sports.

What are some of your favorite memories from The Coop? Let us know in the comments.

Special thanks to ohioexplorationscoiety.com for information about the history of Cooper Stadium.

Continue Reading

Food & Drink

Discount Date Destinations: Happy Hour at The Avenue Steak Tavern

Lindsay Pinchot

Published

on

Welcome to Discount Date Destinations, where we’ll bring you the best places in the city to take your date on budget. The restaurants we’ll be highlighting all have that date-night-worthy atmosphere with food and drink specials that won’t break the bank. In today’s installment, we’re heading to happy hour at The Avenue Steak Tavern.

The Avenue Steak Tavern is a Cameron Mitchell restaurant serving upscale American fare and, as the name suggests, great steaks. There are two locations: Grandview Heights and Historic Dublin. Both offer delicious food, classic atmosphere, and happy hour deals every weekday from 4pm-6pm.  My husband and I can walk to the Grandview location from our home, and it’s quickly become one of our favorite date night spots.

When you walk in, The Avenue feels both upscale and inviting, with a beautifully crafted interior and friendly, attentive staff. We enjoyed happy hour in the bar area, where warm wood, red leather, and checkered floors come together to create an ambiance ideal for date night. Another plus: the bar seats are comfortable and there’s plenty of room to spread out and unwind after a day at work.

Atmosphere aside, the best part of happy hour at The Avenue is that the menu is filling and diverse, giving a taste of all the restaurant has to offer from seafood specialties to French fries. The drink specials include discounted wine pours, draft beer, and rotating daily cocktail specials.

My husband and I started with the baked cheese fondue, which is served with crusty sourdough bread and topped with honey for that perfect sweet and salty combination. I got a glass of wine ($6) and he had the Old Fashioned ($7) that’s offered on Fridays, a drink that pairs well with the traditional steak tavern feel. From there, we split parmesan green beans ($4), steak bites ($10), and sliders ($6). Each dish was fantastic, and the portions were more than enough to satisfy. I wish we’d had room to try more, but we were beyond full. As 6pm approached, I noticed that the staff checked in with everyone to take any last-minute food or drink orders before happy hour ended.  

We got in an out of The Avenue For $40...$50 with tip. What a steal!

We’re never disappointed when we visit The Avenue. We can always count on great food and a great experience. I highly recommend their happy hour for anyone looking to enjoy food, drink, and sophisticated date-night vibes without spending a fortune.

Read more: Discount Date Destinations: Saturday Samplings at The Refectory

Continue Reading

No mo’ FOMO

Missing out sucks. That's why our daily email is so important. You'll be up-to-date on the latest happenings and things to do in Cbus + be the first to snag our daily giveaways

Shop Now!

The Magazines

X