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Honolulu Lite

by Charles Memminger

Monday, November 6, 2000

Last call
for venerable
Columbia Inn

THE two buildings where I've spent a majority of my life are the News Building and Columbia Inn.

Wait. That's not right. I haven't spent a majority of my life in those buildings. What I mean is that if I were to figure out how much time I've spent in various places in my life: homes, offices, etc., the News Building and the Columbia Inn would be at the top of the list of total, combined occupation.

That's because I've worked at the Star-Bulletin for 20 years and so indulged in 20 years worth of breakfasts, lunches, dinners and cocktail hours next door at the Columbia Inn.

Now, ironically, at the same time the Star-Bulletin is fighting for survival, comes word that the venerable Columbia Inn, gathering place of celebrity and loony alike, will be closing in January.

With its walls covered with framed photographs of national and local sports figures, journalists, movie and television stars and politicians, the Columbia Inn was (I hate using the past tense) the quintessential media restaurant and bar. The famed Round Table has been (that's better, past perfect tense) a public gathering place for the famous, infamous, working journalist, hardly working journalist, used-to-be working journalist and a surprising number of civilian interlopers with an Annoyance Quotient often times off the scale.

Regulars would assess (subjunctive tense?) the A.Q. level before deciding whether to sit at the Round Table. (That was one of the more complicated paragraphs I've written in some time, but, frankly, the subject emotionally overwhelms me.)

In truth, the Round Table is a gathering place of bothersome people of every ilk. It is a place where the BS is so deep you can't tell if your feet are hitting the floor half the time and where so many egos compete for space there's no place to set down a plate of steamed soy beans. In other words, its a great place to hoist a cold one and chew on the problems of the world if the jerk to your right would just let you get a word in edgewise.

Having been that jerk-on-the-right my fair share of times in two decades of using the Columbia Inn as my personal decompression chamber, I can report that there has not been, never was and never will be (that should cover the tense bases) another place like it.

Regulars have rolled with the politically correct punches over the years as the Columbia Inn was transferred from the glory days of ownership by the Kaneshiro family to the present owners. I never met Tosh Kaneshiro, the soul and personality of the place. But I met his wife and sons, Gene and Norman, who kept the low-key ambience intact during their tenure. Eventually, they were gone, along with the cigarette machine and the tacky velvet paintings of naked babes above the bar and Round Table.

The new owners tried to keep the Columbia Inn mystique intact and did pretty well. But fewer celebrities have shown up in recent years. The cranky air conditioning often left the bar feeling like summer in Istanbul. And drinking sensibilities evolved to where quaffing beer for six or seven hours at a stretch is not considered good.

For those of us who have grown up, or at least grown older, around the Columbia Inn, the announced closure will take some time to sink in.

Over the next several weeks, many a mug will be hoisted in memory of, well, memories. When the wrecking ball takes the Columbia Inn it will chip away a piece of all of us.

Charles Memminger, winner of
National Society of Newspaper Columnists
awards in 1994 and 1992, writes "Honolulu Lite"
Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Write to him at the Honolulu Star-Bulletin,
P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu, 96802
or send E-mail to

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