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Downtown building transforming to ‘adult, gay, Rainforest Cafe’ with 2 restaurants and nightclub

Downtown building transforming to ‘adult, gay, Rainforest Cafe’ with 2 restaurants and nightclub

Sav McKee

Tora Bonnier is a lawyer, race car driver, aspiring engineer, certified sommelier and culinary school graduate from Paris, on the board of COSI, plus so much more. Really, what can’t she do? 

Actually, we can think of one thing: rest. “You start five businesses all at once, you don’t sleep at all,” Bonnier joked. 

She recently acquired the iconic, Downtown Ho-Toy building. You know the one, with the enormous vintage red & green neon sign that displays “Ho-Toy” in a font we barely see anymore, floating above 11 W. State St. (which will be preserved by a bidder, don’t worry!). The building first housed a Burger King back in 1973, then Ho-Toy, a Chinese restaurant, moved there in 1980, eventually closing in December of 2022. With brown leather booths, cream wallpaper, and dark brick flooring, it still looks exactly the same as it did decades ago.

Bonnier has a vision for it though. She originally bought the building, now called the Bonnier Building, with two ideas. Upon getting to know the space better, about three other concepts came to her. Yes, that’s right – the building is being revitalized with five new concepts, all in one space.

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The aforementioned brick flooring will remain in the first floor restaurant, called The Statehouse. “I saw the beautiful brick floor, and I immediately thought, ‘Americana,’ said Bonnier. More like, “Ohioana,” though. The restaurant will feature all things Ohio, with a menu focused on foraging and farming Ohio goods. 98% of the menu consists of meat, vegetables, and herbs raised and grown locally, with local beef, local chicken, plus unique vegetables and herbs like ramps, dandelions, sweet wild onion grass – ingredients people have heard of and seen around here, and have even picked out of their garden to not disturb their flowers, but haven’t necessarily eaten. 

Then, right below The Statehouse will be Sous-Sol in the basement, which Bonnier refers to as an “adult, gay, Rainforest Cafe” type of nightclub. This LGBTQ+ centered club will offer an immersive experience, with a quick, specialty show every 15-30 minutes, “kind of like the thunderstorm at the Rainforest Cafe,” laughed Bonnier. And if that doesn’t already sound fun enough, the 17ft dance floor and walls will be touch-screen and interactive. “Think of the billboards in Japan that can make things three dimensional or change depth perception,” she said. “The setting and the location of our shows and where you’re dancing can completely change just by your touch.”

The elevator up to the second floor won’t be just your average elevator, either. “In the elevator, you’ll experience that feeling of what it’s like to go to outer space,” Bonnier emphasized (I got kicked out of that space ride at Disney World for throwing up in my seat, so I hope she doesn’t mean this literally?!). “Then when you arrive in Xenon, you’ll be landing in space.” Xenon, the second restaurant in the Bonnier Building, will be an immersive space station/fine dining experience, where you’re encouraged to move around and interact, all the while eating incredible food. Bonnier’s collaborating with some of the top engineers and tech experts from around the world to make this happen, and because it’s such a complex restaurant, the projected opening is late 2025-early 2026. Sounds worth the wait, though.

On the very top floor will house The Pod, a coworking space that will eventually be equipped for around 120 people to work from the building. Printers, tech access, and 24/7 access are included in the membership, and the space will feature conference rooms and private offices. The Pod is projected to open mid-April of this year, first starting with just a few conference rooms and offices before furnishing the entire space.

And last, but certainly not least, is the rooftop. It’s very far down the line, Bonnier said, due to the fact they’ll have to add fire escapes and rooftop access. It’s referred to as Eden Garden’s Project, and the plans are to make the building self-sufficient by adding solar panels, a rooftop garden with hydroponic vegetables, and an insect and pollinator reproduction section. “We’ll be sustaining the life of everything in our building,” Bonnier emphasized. 

On top of all of the new concepts she’s bringing to Downtown, she’s also ensuring that her employees are treated fairly. “All of my employees will be on salary with benefits, besides the performers (who won’t be working full-time). My salary will be what my lowest employee will make – so if they’re making $32,000, then I’m only making $32,000, too,” Bonnier said.

Join in on the anticipation at their June 15 festivities, which will include a huge Pride event, complete with a State St. shutdown near the building, and a large concert and show featuring global drag stars. Ideally, Soul Sol and Statehouse would open a month later from the block party, sometime in July. 

Bonnier is putting everything that she has into this place, “making sure it’s done right,” she said. “I want to make sure it’s special. A large part of this is about passion.” She has high hopes for the future of Columbus, even claiming that it’s “the new Chicago,” and her enthusiasm and innovation has me convinced, too.

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