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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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Arts & Culture

(614) Movie Club: New Jon Stewart feature, Episode V Beer Tasting, and timely documentaries

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(614) Movie Club. It’s OK to talk about it. 

Every Monday at (614) we’ll be here to update you on virtual and physical screenings that are being offered by the businesses and organizations that make Columbus such a special cinema city. Read below for this week’s streams and showtimes.

NOW SHOWING AT GRANDVIEW THEATER

Jaws

The original Jaws will continue to show at Grandview theater after a July 4 weekend beer tasting. Fitting, right? Watching this might be what it takes to keep you away from the beach for the rest of the summer.

  • Showing: July 6-9 (4 p.m.)
  • Cost: $9
  • Release: 1975
  • Runtime: 124 min.

Jurassic Park

More Steven Spielberg horror on the big screen. Again, if you missed the beer tasting, you’ll have a few more shots this week at catching some dino-roaring action on the big screen.

  • Showing: July 6-9 (7 p.m.)
  • Cost: $9
  • Release: 1993
  • Runtime: 127 min.

Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back Beer Tasting

One of the most popular picks for best Star Wars film of all time, the beer tasting comes during a year when the fifth episode is celebrating its 40th anniversary. Enjoy a 10-round beer tasting, free pint glass, raffle prizes, and a very entertaining presentation.

  • Showing: July 11 (3 and 9 p.m.) and 12 (5 p.m.)
  • Cost: $40
  • Release: 1993
  • Runtime: 127 min.

NOW SHOWING AT STUDIO 35

Irresistible 

A local town battling big-party politics, written and directed by Jon Stewart and starring Steve Carrell? Looks great on paper, plays out even better on screen. Rose Byrne is outright ridiculous in this one. Enjoy a 2020 release in an actual movie theater with grade-A recliners.

  • Showing: July 6-9 (4:30, 7, and 9:30 p.m.)
  • Cost: $9
  • Release: 2020
  • Runtime: 104 min.

Jurassic Park

See above.

  • Showing: July 6-9 (4 and 7 p.m.)
  • Cost: $9
  • Release: 1993
  • Runtime: 127 min.

Jaws

See above.

  • Showing: July 6-9 (9:45 p.m.)
  • Cost: $9
  • Release: 1975
  • Runtime: 124 min.

Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back Beer Tasting

See above.

  • Showing: July 11 (noon and 5:30 p.m.) and 12 (2 p.m.)
  • Cost: $40
  • Release: 1993
  • Runtime: 127 min.

NOW STREAMING VIRTUALLY AT THE WEX

Cincinnati Goddam

A timely documentary that followed the Black Lives Matter movement around 2013, this film focuses on the corruption within the Cincinnati Police Department, whose force was responsible for killing a total of 15 black men between 1995 and 2001. 

  • Closes: July 9
  • Cost: Free
  • Release: 2015
  • Runtime: 103 min.

Ella Fitzgerald: Just One of Those Things

Ella Fitzgerald is one of the most prolific singers of all time. Although a lot of her life has been studied, this documentary goes deeper with some never-before-seen footage and interviews from greats such as Tony Bennett and Smokey Robinson.

  • Closes: July 23
  • Cost: $12
  • Release: 2019
  • Runtime: 90 min.

The Last Tree

A coming-of-age journey that follows a Black teenager trying to find his identity in the UK and beyond. The movie was the winner of the World Dramatic Competition at Sundance and Best Supporting Actress and Most Promising Newcomer awards at the British Independent Film Awards.

  • Closes: July 23
  • Cost: $10
  • Release: 2019
  • Runtime: 98 min.

Denise Ho - Becoming the Song

Another unfortunately timely documentary, Denise Ho follows the personal journey of the openly gay singer from pop icon to human rights activist. What emerged out of the Umbrella Movement of 2014 saw Ho take to the streets in the midst of the Hong Kong revolution in 2019.

  • Closes: July 30
  • Cost: $12
  • Release: 2020
  • Runtime: 83 min.

NOW STREAMING VIRTUALLY AT GFC

Ai Weiwei: Yours Truly

Ai Weiwei, China's most famous artist, transforms Alcatraz Island prison into an astonishing expression of socially-engaged art focused on the unjustly incarcerated. Known-whistleblower Chelsea Manning makes an appearance. 

  • Opens: July 8
  • Cost: $10
  • Release: 2019
  • Runtime: 78 min.

We Are Little Zombies

If eccentric Japanese cinema is your forte, you’ll want to check out We Are Little Zombies. A messy triumph of tragedy, comedy, music, social criticism, and teenage angst, watch what four teenagers do when they find out their parents are being turned into dust.

  • Opens: July 8
  • Cost: N/A
  • Release: 2019
  • Runtime: 120 min.
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Where to get your Red, White & BOOM on this July 4th

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It was a bummer to hear that Red, White & BOOM would be canceled and changed to a virtual format for 2020. However, that shouldn’t stop you from celebrating in a somewhat traditional sense. Even with one of the biggest fireworks celebrations put on hold, there’s still plenty to do around Columbus, fireworks or no fireworks.

We here at (614) know that given the modern-day circumstances, people have the choice to celebrate in whatever way they feel most comfortable. Below you can find three ways to celebrate–Local 4th of July events; Red, White & BOOM alternatives; and places where you can legally celebrate yourself.

THINGS TO DO ON JULY 4TH

Fourth of July Fireworks

West Jefferson July 4th Streetfest

When: July 4 at 10 p.m.

Where: Watch from home

Obetz Fireworks

When: July 4

Where: Watch from home

Fourth of July Activities

Neighborhood Bike Brigade

When: Various start times

Where: Dublin neighborhoods

Sherm Sheldon Fishing Derby

When: June 26 through July 4

Where: Any Dublin pond

Fourth of July Parades

Front Yard Parade in the Round

When: July 4 at 6 until 9 p.m.

Where: Your front yard

2020 Cruisin’ On The 4th of July

When: July 4 at noon

Where: Northbridge Ln., Columbus, OH 43235

New Albany 4th of July Parade & Festival

When: July 4 at 10 a.m. until 12:30 p.m.

Where: Church of the Resurrection, 6300 E Dublin Granville Rd., New Albany, OH 43054

Other Fourth of July Events

Zoombezi Bay Family Movie Night featuring The Goonies

When: July 3 from 6 until 11 p.m.

Where: Zoombezi Bay, 10101 Riverside Dr., Powell, OH 43065

HOW TO CELEBRATE WITH RED, WHITE & BOOM

Red, White & BOOM was gearing up for its 40th anniversary before COVID-19 shut the mass gathering down. However, the beloved Columbus fireworks show will be hosting a virtual event over the first four days of July. The virtual campaign will air on NBC4.

Here are some of the events that will take place:

  • Highlighting the best Red, White & BOOM stories
  • Stories from local veterans inducted into the Ford Oval of Honor
  • Broadcasting the best Red, White & BOOM fireworks over the show’s 39-year history
  • Looking back on the tradition of parades honoring veterans

HOW TO TAKE CELEBRATING INTO YOUR OWN HANDS

We here at (614) also know that setting off fireworks yourself is illegal. We also know that buying them within the state is legal (OK?).

So here is a list of places around Columbus you can buy fireworks from. What you do from there is up to you, but we advise you to stay within the law:

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Zoo Babies! We’ve got the photo cuteness

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Start the ooo-ing and ahhh-ing, Columbus, because we’ve got Zoo baby pics!

A Masai giraffe calf, a sea lion pup, two red panda cubs, and a siamang (gibbon) baby—all recent births at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium for these endangered species. It’s a show of commitment from the organization how they were able to nurture these species populations at-risk for extinction and bring new generations of them into the world. 

“We are extremely proud to welcome these babies as they all represent hope for the future of species that are increasingly facing challenges in their native ranges,” said Columbus Zoo and Aquarium President/CEO, Tom Stalf. In the press release, Stalf detailed how special these births are as the threatened species received around-the-clock, top-quality care by the Animal Care staff over the three-month-closure of the Zoo, due to COVID-19. 

OK, no more waiting—get your fill of cuteness below with these Zoo baby pics!

Masai Giraffe Calf

“A Masai giraffe calf was born on June 28, 2020, at 2:29 p.m. to mother, Zuri, in a behind-the-scenes barn of the Zoo’s Heart of Africa region.”

Sea lion Pup

“During the early morning hours of June 25, the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium welcomed the first sea lion pup ever to be born at the facility!”

Two Red Panda Cubs

“Two healthy red panda cubs were born at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, a welcomed addition to this endangered species.”

Siamang (Gibbon) baby

“On the morning of May 29, 2020, the Australia and Islands region welcomed a baby siamang. Mom, Olga, is being very attentive to her little one, whose sex and name have not yet been determined.”

Get information about conservation at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium here.

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