San Francisco, California, United States
The Tonga Room is a great example of an old, classic Polynesian restaurant. It can be found in the basement floor of the upscale Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco. The Tonga Room has gone through several incarnations over the years, themed initially upon opening on September 18th, 1945 as a cruise ship (the S.S. Tonga), then in the '50s as a Mondrian-esque Chinese restaurant, then finally in the '60s the current theme of a Polynesian paradise took hold. Before becoming a restaurant, the space was the hotel's swimming pool.
The bar area of the restaurant has some impressive nautical theming, complete with a large ship's mast and sail, and plenty of rigging. There are two long dining rooms. The left dining room lies beneath a peaked-roof A-frame structure of impressive scale, with gorgeous carved details. The right dining room includes tables clustered under smaller round thatched huts, each one filled with large, colorful float lamps. Around the entire restaurant there are no shortage of old carved pieces tucked in between tropical foliage.
The dining rooms and the bar wrap around the real star attraction: a water-filled lagoon (the remains of the room's swimming pool origins), with a small tapa-lined boat with a thatched roof, where a band plays. Every thirty minutes a thunderstorm erupts, and rain falls into the pool. Unfortunately, this grand spectacle is also where the Tonga Room experience goes sadly sideways: while earlier in the evening the soundtrack is appropriate Hawaiian music, the house band plays dance hits of the '80s. The band starts playing at 8pm, at which time a cover charge is added to all bills (adding insult to the injury). The more low-key Happy Hour buffet at the Tonga Room, which goes from 5-7pm Monday-Friday, is quite popular.
In early 2009, the Fairmont announced plans to add a new tower of condominiums; this plan would have displaced the historic Tonga Room. This led to a fight against the removal of this unique piece of San Francisco history. The end result was positive: the Tonga Room is now protected under special landmark status by the City of San Francisco. The owners could still choose to close the Tonga Room, but every artifact within must be painstakingly cataloged, tracked, and preserved, and hopefully that daunting task will stave off any dreams of converting the space. The hotel has since changed ownership, and the new owners have no interest in the old condo plan.
In 2013, the menu was revamped; the tropical drinks being served are now much truer to the traditional recipes, and prepared with more care. Tonga Room's management has said that this new menu has led to a dramatic increase in bar sales, giving hope that this new trend towards a higher quality experience at the Tonga Room will continue.
Stayed here this weekend with the family at the Fairmont Hotel and this was our first stop for dinner and drinks the evening we rolled into town. I had been here before on at least two other occasions when I was in town for academic conferences but those would have been prior to 2011 and both occasions were during Happy Hour where I probably shared an appetizer plate -- no entrees. Also visited here on 12/27/2006 with Ilene during our 4 day Tiki Spectacular Vacation. Decor here is amazing and the drinks were a bump up from what I remembered. The food was very good but very steep prices. Also, I wanted to buy mugs but due to Covid shipping problems they were still waiting for their shipment on bowls and fog cutters, etc..., which were postponed to 2023 in all likelihood. Overall, though, it was well worth it to see it all again and to introduce my son to a San Francisco Tiki icon!
Tonga Room Tangaroa Mug - Second Edition - Blue
Tonga Room Band Boat Bowl
Tonga Room Starboard Light Lantern Mug
Tonga Room Fog Cutter Tiki Mug
Tonga Room Tangaroa Mug - First Edition - Green
Tonga Room Porthole Bowl
Tonga Room Port Light Lantern Mug
Tonga Room Hurricane Glass with Tapa and Mask
Tonga Room Three Face Bucket Standard Size
Tonga Room Hurricane Glass with Foliage
Tonga Room Moai Salt & Pepper Shakers
Tonga Room Lined Moai Salt & Pepper Shakers
Tonga Room Hula Girl Bowl
Tonga Room Double Coconut Mug
Tonga Room Drum Mug
Tonga Room Kneeling Hula Girl Bowl
Tonga Room Three Moai Bowl
Tonga Room Three Face Bucket Slim Size
Tonga Room Earring Head Mug
Tonga Room Peanut Lined Face OMC Mug