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Bye bye Tonga Room

rworange May 20, 2010 11:09 AM

It looks like the Fairmont probably won't be replacing the Tonga Room if they get permission to tear down the current tower.

Is Tonga Room tiki bar in S.F. worth saving?
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article...

So if you ever considered going, even factoring the long delays for construction permission, it might be a good idea to move it up priority-wise on your to-try list.

This is a rather cold, but unfortunately true comment to the article

"A lot of people like the Tonga Room as an idea, but, like me, rarely go there--and I live nearby. It's expensive, the food is second rate, and who wants to drink tiki drinks all night? "

One esoteric fact I never knew ...

"The Tonga Room actually replaced "The Plunge" which was a big, indoor diving pool from 1929 to the mid-1940s that attracted the likes of many Olympic medalists and other notable swimmers, high-profile Bay Area personalities and national celebrities. However, "The Plunge" wasn't making the Fairmont any money and was declining in favor among guests, so with an ownership change in the 1940's, the pool area was converted into what is now known as the Tonga Room -- in hope that money generated from the bar/restaurant would generate revenue to keep things afloat (pun intended)"

IMO, if the city should declare the Tonga Room a landmark, it should also force the hotel to upgrade the food.

Since the Fairmont is looking to be a five star hotel, imagine the buzz of the nation's first three star Michelan tiki bar. Maybe they could get Jeremy Fox to do a tiki tasting menu

Some other clever suggestions
- move it to city hall
- move it to Pier 39
- put it on Ebay

For anyone considering taking a gander at it, what would be the best food or drink options?

  1. c
    Calvinist May 20, 2010 11:50 AM

    Love the Tonga Room, but, yes, I rarely go there. It should be noted that the Tonga Room makes its drinks from standard mixes. It has not been part of the Forbidden Island/Smuggler's Cove revival, rediscovering the original recipes of drinks like the Mai Tai, and sourcing the best syrups and rums to make them from.

    I'd love for the Tonga Room to be a part of that. But it will not be the end of civilization if it goes away. Heck – I wish they would bring back the Plunge!

    -----
    Tonga Room
    950 Mason St., San Francisco, CA 94108

    1 Reply
    1. re: Calvinist
      b
      bronwen May 27, 2010 10:36 AM

      Yes, it's really just a one-off place as it's not very comfortable. I'll be sad to see it go though!

    2. c oliver May 20, 2010 05:58 PM

      Oh no!!!!! :) I've only been there once for drinks but what a kick it was. I kinda like the idea of moving it to City Hall. Could be the site of some great weddings, eh?

      -----
      City Hall Cafe
      400 S Van Ness Ave, San Francisco, CA 94103

      1. nhbalex May 21, 2010 12:13 AM

        It's unfortunate. It was a very kitschy place locked into a 60s Hawaiian timewarp. Maybe with the new Hawaii 5-0 hitting the TV airwaves.. a resurgence of Island fever might give the Tonga Room a boost.

        -----
        Tonga Room
        950 Mason St., San Francisco, CA 94108

        1. Atomica May 21, 2010 07:50 AM

          That Robert Varni person has zero idea of what he's talking about. Newer tiki bars all around the country are very popular and successful.

          1. PBSF May 21, 2010 08:02 AM

            Actually the Tonga Room is doing very good business, about the only place inside the Fairmont that is doing so. And Friday nights are always packed with a mix of the SouthBay regulars, tourist and even a few locals. The primary reason it is closing is that the Fairmont wants to replace the tower, etc with newly built condos. The Tonga Room's decor and the eclectic crowd it draws do not fit into their vision of the plush condos.

            -----
            Tonga Room
            950 Mason St., San Francisco, CA 94108

            9 Replies
            1. re: PBSF
              c oliver May 21, 2010 08:29 AM

              I assume you're not saying they shouldn't be allowed to do this, are you? They say they're not making money and you say they are but I don't think that even matters. Plenty of restaurants change their menus completely and redecorate so you'd never know the previous place had existed. Their roof, their rules.

              1. re: c oliver
                PBSF May 21, 2010 08:41 AM

                I am not saying what they should be allow to do or not. And I have no idea if they are making money or not. Those are inferences that you've made. All I am stating is that the Tonga does attracts a good size crowd which in the restaurant/bar business does not always translate to profit.

                1. re: PBSF
                  c oliver May 21, 2010 08:47 AM

                  Sorry, I obviously misread you. As kitchy as the Tonga Room is, I'm surprised it's lasted as long as it has. I guess the Fairmont was just waiting til they did something with the old tower.

                  -----
                  Tonga Room
                  950 Mason St., San Francisco, CA 94108

                  1. re: c oliver
                    c
                    cortez May 22, 2010 07:25 AM

                    I love tiki bars (Forbidden Island in Alameda is my favorite, followed by Smuggler's Cove. In New York, it's the Rusty Knot.). So, in the spirit of adventure, I went to the Tonga Room with high expectations.

                    It's a disaster. The drinks are poor facsimiles of the top ingredient concoctions from the bars named above. The food is abysmal. The only highlight was the fake rainstorm on the half hour-- very low tech but fun nonetheless.

                    I'm all for historical preservation. But, the Tonga Room is a monument to poor drinks and worse food, not deserving of preservation. The concept of a tiki bar is worth enjoying, preserving and improving. The Tonga Room is not that place.

                    -----
                    Tonga Room
                    950 Mason St., San Francisco, CA 94108

                    Smuggler's Cove
                    650 Gough St, San Francisco, CA 94102

                    1. re: cortez
                      rworange May 22, 2010 09:25 AM

                      Oh honey, no one goes to the Tonga Room expecting anything good food-wise It is all about, um, ambiance. If my OP made you think that, I apologize. It is more about catching a little glimps of the SF past before it is gone.

                      That being said, by by serving crap, the Fairmont is doing its best to drive people away.

                      As someone said, if they had a good mixoligist and got a good chef they could really have somethig. unique. Most people are suckers for a little drama and a good show at restaurants.

                      My guess is at this point they'd also need to modernize the room a bit. I was intrigued about one SFGate comment about some of the architecture from the old Plunge that was covered up when the TR was built.

                      One of the comments in the SFGate aarticle though was there is a certain implicit racism built into this. As someone else said, Togans don't go to the Tonga Room.

                      I think the tiki bar concept is really American. However, how that is viewed by the members of that community, don''t know.

                      So, what did you order so that anyone going to view the remains can avoid ordering it?

                      1. re: rworange
                        c oliver May 22, 2010 09:45 AM

                        FWIW, the Tongan consulate is located at 360 Post bet. Stockton and Powell,where Tiffany's is. I know that because I once worked for QANTAS which was headquartered there. Just just a short roll up the hill.

                        1. re: c oliver
                          rworange May 22, 2010 10:09 AM

                          So ... do you know if the Tongan consulate people ever ate at the Tonga Room. I guess I am answering my own question about implicit racism. Still, most of the Tongans I know are pretty laid back and I am guessing would think it is funny and really had nothing to do with Tonga. Many years ago, the staff of my first job was heavily Tongan.

                          -----
                          Tonga Room
                          950 Mason St., San Francisco, CA 94108

                          1. re: rworange
                            c oliver May 22, 2010 10:53 AM

                            I never connected the dots or I would certainly have asked :) I suspect they don't go there. And for the life of me, I can't figure out while people from the South Bay would make the trek.

                            1. re: c oliver
                              rworange May 22, 2010 11:03 AM

                              There is a South Bay contingient that seems addicted to restaurants with pools and booze. That place on Folsom and, um, somewere around 7th-9th, used to attract a huge South Bay crowd. It is some other restaurant now. Not sure if they kept the pool. I guess it is a Southern (Bay) thang.

            2. cosmogrrl May 22, 2010 11:14 AM

              The Tonga room is one of the closest bars to where I live. I wish it was much better. I don't mind the overpriced drinks, and I don't mind the so-so food. What I DO mind is the "entertainment fee" as well as the entertainment. Basically (when I was there last), a casiotone, and some bad singing. All for a mandatory $15; I would have happily payed more to not hear the band.

              I also hate the rude or indifferent service.

              Don't get me wrong, I love the ambience of the Tonga Room. And I occasionally like a frou frou sweet drink; and I always liked the big bowl drinks (the ones for 4).

              -----
              Tonga Room
              950 Mason St., San Francisco, CA 94108

              1. s
                sugartoof May 22, 2010 10:10 PM

                So much potential there, in a setting which will never be duplicated.

                I hate the idea of infringing on the rights of the property owners, but in a perfect world, it would be landmarked, and receive the city money that Yoshi's should have never been granted.

                You're right, all it would take is a decent retro cocktail menu with good execution and fresh fruit juices.

                As for the food, I liked their fried rice. The food isn't horrible, it's just not great, and it doesn't help that it's expensive and greasy too.

                1. j
                  jamtart12 May 26, 2010 08:26 AM

                  do you know when they plan to close the Tonga Room?
                  thanks

                  -----
                  Tonga Room
                  950 Mason St., San Francisco, CA 94108

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: jamtart12
                    Robert Lauriston May 26, 2010 10:35 AM

                    The company that owns the Fairmont has applied for permission to tear down the tower added on to the original 1906 hotel in 1961 and replace it with condos. The city could deny the application for various reasons.

                    1. re: Robert Lauriston
                      c
                      Calvinist May 26, 2010 11:17 AM

                      I'd love to hear Martin Cate's views on why the SF Trader Vic's failed (in the old Stars space). I was only there once but it was a beautiful room.

                      1. re: Calvinist
                        Robert Lauriston May 27, 2010 11:39 AM

                        The owners claim it had something to do with demolition of the building next door:

                        http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/blogs/c...

                  2. a
                    andy54321 May 27, 2010 06:19 PM

                    Crappy food, bad drinks and abysmal entertainment in one of San Francisco's top hotels? The owners certainly know those things are perfect ingredients to drive a foodie city to outright ambivalence about a retro gem of kitsch for which it might otherwise put up a major fight.

                    It's a conspiracy, I tell you!

                    1. wolfe May 27, 2011 08:42 AM

                      We're not down yet.
                      Pop Sugar Exclusive has 50% off at Tonga Room.
                      Original Price: $62 Their Price: $31
                      offer available for about 7 days.

                      -----
                      Tonga Room
                      950 Mason St., San Francisco, CA 94108

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: wolfe
                        Robert Lauriston May 27, 2011 08:50 AM

                        That's for one dinner and one drink, which given the quality of the food is no bargain.

                      2. Robert Lauriston May 27, 2011 09:42 AM

                        The latest news is that the demolition plan appears to be dead:

                        http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article...

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Robert Lauriston
                          Atomica Jul 13, 2011 08:07 AM

                          HALLELUJAH! ! !

                        2. Glencora Dec 15, 2011 03:27 PM

                          Went last night because I'd never been, and who knows about the room's future. It was lively, with a mix of tourists and locals--little girls in velvet dresses, grandparents. Kind of nice. We had wine and beer instead of sweet drinks--a less expensive option. Most of the food in the 9.50 happy hour buffet was skip-able, but the spicy chicken wings were fine, quite juicy and not too sweet. It was a good way to see the room without spending much.

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