WHENEVER people needed directions to the Star-Bulletin newsroom over the telephone, I'd say, "We're at 605 Kapiolani Boulevard in the news building, at the corner of Kapiolani and South Street. Do you know where that is?"
Most times, they'd answer no.
"Do you know where Columbia Inn is?" I'd counter hopefully.
"Oh, SURE!" they'd respond.
"Well, then, we're right next door."
Unless they were fresh off the plane, from the neighbor islands or rural residents who rarely ventured into town, most folks knew Columbia Inn.
They had likely chowed down, at least once, at the famous family eatery with walls filled with framed photographs and drawings.
They had peered longingly at the assorted cream pies in the display case up front, or imbibed at the sports bar, which hosted many a debate over athletics and politics.
For those of us producing the daily newspaper -- whether at the Star-Bulletin, Advertiser or Hawaii Newspaper Agency -- Columbia Inn was the answer to a growling tummy.
Especially at night, we'd make the pilgrimage across our parking lot to the front door flanked by both American and Hawaiian flags.
We'd return with styrofoam food containers brimming with favorites including:
"Broke Da Mout' Beef Stew -- Our award-winning recipe! Lots of tender beef and fresh garden vegetables ($7.55)."THERE were also the ever-changing daily specials, like last Thursday's Chicken Tofu with Vegetables ($6.45); Hawaiian Plate with Lau Lau, Chicken Long Rice and Lomi Lomi Salmon ($9.95); and Mahi Mahi Saute with White Wine Sauce ($9.75).
"Hawaiian Delight -- Your choice of chopped steak or boneless chicken stir fried with fresh vegetables on a SIZZLING platter with our special sauce ($6.95)."
If we had a stomach ache or felt a little under the weather, there was comfort food like:
"Super Saimin -- A huge bowl of noodles topped with roast pork, char siu, spinach, bean sprouts, kamaboko, won tons, green onions, sliced omelet and shrimp tempura ($7.95)."
"Oxtail Soup -- Famous house specialty served with grated ginger and two scoops rice ($8.95)."
On a diet? There was always:
"Tofu Salad -- Fresh greens topped with tofu, cucumbers, tomatoes, bean sprouts, wakame seaweed, hana katsuo and our homemade Japanese dressing ($6.25)."
"The Garden Burger -- A delicious meatless patty low in calories and fat. Contains mushrooms, onions, rolled oats, low-fat mozzarella cheese, brown rice, dry curd cottage cheese, eggs, cheddar cheese, bulgar wheat and seasoning ($5.95)."
The second best thing about Columbia Inn, though, was that it was neither too hoity-toity nor fast-foodish. It was just right, exactly in the middle.
So when it closed for good last Friday night, after the property was purchased by Servco Pacific, it was the most unappetizing day at the "Top of the Boulevard" for the past 37 years.
In this ever-changing state, which is becoming a town of the haves and the have-nots, the rich or those on food stamps, the Lexus or the Corolla, the middle class is finding fewer places to nourish itself.
Even worse, when I give telephone directions to our building, I may now be forced to utter, "Do you know where Columbia Inn USED to be?" It's simply too sad to say.
Diane Yukihiro Chang's column runs Monday and Friday.
She can be reached by phone at 525-8607, via e-mail at
email@example.com, or by fax at 523-7863.