The rockin’ Torch-A-Go-Go

By Rick Palsgrove, Southeast Editor

There has been nothing in Groveport like the Torch-A-Go-Go and I remain disappointed that I never got to experience it.

The tropical themed dance club for teenagers offered live rock and roll bands and featured a 10,000 square foot dance floor of sand with another 5,000 square foot hardtop dance floor.

Plus the Torch-A-Go-Go was lit with flaming “tropical torch lighting,” and featured an island and beach decor that reflected the 1960s craze in America for tiki culture as well as a fascination with the newly admitted island state of Hawaii.

The Torch-A-Go-Go, which operated in the summer for just a couple of years starting in 1966, was located at 5073 S. Hamilton Road just north of what was then the old Big City Garden Center (which is now Motts Military Museum). Memberships to the club were sold at the door and dances were held every Friday and Saturday all summer.

An ad announcing the grand opening of the club on June 3, 1966 (the ad did not show the year, I found it by using a perpetual calendar and looking for a year in the 1960s when June 3 fell on a Friday). The ad stated the featured rock band on opening night was The Vandels. The ad boasted that the mysterious “Love Potion #Nine” would be available, and also listed these specific rules patrons to the club must follow: “no intoxicating beverages on premises, no fighting, no profanity, no hotrodding or burning of rubber in or around premises or any other type of misconduct, dress neatly. Anyone in violation of rules will be expelled from membership.”

I love the references to “hotrodding” and “burning rubber” in the ad. It’s like mischief with cars was the most serious offense one could commit at the time.

“No fighting! I’m glad they were clear on that,” laughed Matt Wyatt after recently reading the old ad.

Matt, who grew up next door to me in Groveport, and I were slightly too young to enter Torch-A-Go-Go when we were kids, but boy did we want to! We loved rock music and to us the local teenagers seemed like magical, cool creatures who inhabited a world of freedom and who always seemed ready to embrace the next big thing in the culture.

“We (the Wyatt family) occasionally drove past Torch-A-Go-Go, and I was sure something wonderful and forbidden was going on in there,” said Wyatt.

Sometimes, when the sun began to set on those hot, summer weekend nights, I’d ride my bike the short distance from my home to the Torch-A-Go-Go. I’d see the light from the dancing flames and thought of the dancers inside. When I heard the music from the electric guitar (the instrument that my generation most identified with), the pounding of the drums, and the throbbing of the bass coming from the club, it made me wish all the more I was a few years older so I could get inside and absorb all the sights and sounds.

Carla (Rarey) Cramer was a teenager at the time and therefore old enough to enter and enjoy the Torch-A-Go-Go.

“I remember being dropped off and walking back the gravel drive to the entrance of the Torch, with its flaming torches glowing brightly,” said Cramer. “The area was surrounded by a stockade type fence with torches all around and shelf-like benches that ran all along the inside.”

She said most of the area was sand and there was a blacktop “dance floor” up by the stage.

“The elevated stage hosted a lot of local bands as well as some of the more famous bands from Ohio, like the Dantes and Sir Timothy and the Royals. A local band that was there a lot was The Rebounds. They were very popular,” said Cramer.

She said the stage had two “Go-Go Boxes,” one on each side.

“Girls would voluntarily get in the boxes and dance,” said Cramer. “I was in the younger age group, but I didn’t feel intimidated. The place was large enough that you could stay with your own group and not be bothered by others. Going to the Torch was special because it felt like this magical oasis that could set you apart from the rest of the world.”

I never did get to see the inside of the Torch-A-Go-Go because by the time I was old enough to enter the club it had closed, its torch light flames extinguished and the music gone. But maybe my being too young to experience it is why the special mystery of the place remains for me and keeps its short life a wonderful memory in my mind.

Rock on, Torch-A-Go-Go!

(Editor’s note: If you have memories of the Torch-A-Go-Go you would like to share, email them to southeast@columbusmessenger.com)

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