By Bob Krauss
Advertiser Staff Writer
For 37 years it was the comfortable pair of shoes. The old friend you could count on. The cozy kitchen table with an empty chair. But not anymore.
Columbia Inn, at the top of Kapiolani Boulevard, locked its doors for good at 8 p.m. yesterday. The wake had started at breakfast.
|Yeiko Higa, 82, known as "Papa" to Columbia Inn employees, gets an affectionate hug from Sarah Ann Yamaguchi, who had frequented the restaurant for years. Now a Los Angeles resident, she was vacationing in the Islands and stopped by to bid farewell to her old friends as the restaurant folded.
Jeff Widener The Honolulu Advertiser
Pat Ayers, a government consultant, sat at the end of the counter at lunch and mourned over his last serving of Hawaiian beef stew.
"I had my first restaurant meal in the old Columbia Inn on Beretania Street when I was 8 or 9," he said. "Our elementary school basketball team won the championship, and our sponsor took us to dinner."
"Were all orphans now," said Advertiser sports writer Ferd Borsch, who ate one of the first meals served at the Columbia Inn when the restaurant moved to Kapiolani Boulevard in 1964.
"I had breakfast here this morning, and this is going to be my last meal," he said. "Im not coming back tonight. Its too sad."
Two deep at the Round Table, scene of epic carousals, spelled gridlock in the bar, which was somewhat subdued.
"Its not over yet," proclaimed Kekoa Kaapu, with a firm grip on his wine glass.
Honolulus tireless Don Quixote said he got about 5,000 names on a petition to turn the Columbia Inn into a national historic monument. The petition needs 35,000 signatures, so hes galloping off in a new direction to save the restaurant.
Actually, the memory of the Columbia Inn will not fade away but is destined to enter into the folklore of Hawaii.
Susan Kodani, president of the Japanese Cultural Center, said there are plans to preserve the picture collection on the walls and the stories that go with them to document what the restaurant meant to Honolulu.
The story begins when Fred "Tosh" Kaneshiro and his brother, Frank, started Columbia Inn on Beretania Street in 1941 about a week after Pearl Harbor was bombed. The restaurant was at the mouth of Tin Can Alley, home of the Beretania Follies, a burlesque house.
In 1964, ousted by redevelopment, the Kaneshiros purchased the Times Grill on Kapiolani Boulevard, a greasy spoon started by Albert and Wally Teruya. The Teruyas later founded Times supermarkets, named after the restaurant.
|Sallie Noll and Roger Witte, from Kahala, call themselves the "Wednesday Nighters." They made that their tradition, for 25 years, at the Columbia Inn. Here they celebrate their last evening at the popular bar and grill.
Jeff Widener The Honolulu Advertiser
Tosh Kaneshiro, a Los Angeles Dodgers fan, donor to charitable causes and master of getting his name in the paper, was one of Hono-
lulus most creative restaurateurs. He started his career washing dishes and died two decades ago.
In between, he turned the Columbia Inn into a haven for journalists, politicians, athletes and entertainers, and despite the celebrated crowd, he did it without a trace of snobbery.
Last night, waitresses fought their way through the crowds while Tosh Kaneshiros family reminisced amid the hubbub.
Son Gene said he hasnt seen so many people in the bar since the Dodgers won the World Series and several members of the team showed up at the Round Table to sign autographs.
Son Dennis, an accountant, said he once looked at his fathers books and said, "Is that all you make?"
His father answered, "What more do I need? I get to see Dodgers games. I have my friends around me. I love my employees. This is my living room."
Wife Bea said, "Tosh will be happy tonight. All his old friends are here."
The restaurant is to become an auto showroom.
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