classic

Tonga Room

San Francisco, CA
Bar & Restaurant
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950 Mason Street
San Francisco, CA
Opened in 1945
Wed-Thu 5pm-11:30pm
Fri-Sat 5pm-12:30am
Sun 5pm-11:30pm
closed Mon-Tue
(415) 772-5278

Critiki ratings

Tonga Room

7.8

Overall

by 345 people

1

10

Detail
Everyone You
Decor 9.6
Drink Quality 7.1
Drink Selection 7.4
Food Quality 7
Food Selection 7.3
Mood 8.5
Music 6
Service 7.6
Tikiness 8.9
Tilt 8.3
Vibe 7.8

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Humuhumu’s description

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 in 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.

Comments

TikiRick
TikiRick has visited Tonga Room.
June 4, 2019, 8:16 PM
I really wish I could rate this higher, as it was my first time at a historic Polynesian restaurant. I was there a few years ago and realized I never wrote a review. (Service may have changed since then, or at least I hope it did.) I loved the original decor and the pool in the middle of the restaurant. The look of the place was the best experience, however. The drinks were really sweet and tasted like they were from a powdered mix. The Chinese food was pretty pricey for the average quality. And the service was less than stellar. I was travelling solo and was ignored at the door while the hostess took care of couples and groups. I had to interrupt her and ask to have them check my reservation. Once they heard I made a reservation, they got a lot friendlier. I was still ushered to the bar rather than a table, and I had to insist on a table because I wanted to see the pool. The waiter was OK but not overly friendly. And when the band came out to play on the floating raft in the middle of the pool, it was an '80s cover band! Glad I experienced the place, but wish the management would have put more pride in such a historic establishment.
Stacy
Stacy has visited Tonga Room.
March 11, 2019, 11:06 PM
A classic, but if only the drinks were as great as the atmosphere. The menu could use some love. Drinks are pricey but mediocre in a city of outstanding cocktails. Certainly Worth popping your head in if youíre visiting SF but if I had guests Iíd take them to Smugglers,Pagan Idol and Last Rites ( love their drinks).
March 1, 2019, 9:44 PM
Welcome to the Tiki Cruiseline! Step right up and enjoy sysco food, "Boogie Wonderland" played by a man with a keytar, and drinks with EXACTLY the scientifically approved amount of alcohol. Yes, I think it is clear that most of us have been to Tonga as a rite of passage. Personally, I was completely able to put aside my "high end tiki" snobbery and just enjoy the tiki restaurant of olde: Family's enjoying grandpas birthday, anniversaries, baby-boomers shaking their butts to Earth Wind and Fire, and servers with aprons and collared shirts.

It's a blast from the past in that THIS is not only what people loved from theme dining, but this was essentially fine dining in the 50's. I could totally feel the history, the lore, the footprints of 4 generations of people celebrating here. What may seem tacky in the midst of the revival tiki movements of the 80s and now, really holds water on it's own (not just because of the pool) as a classic.

The point about Tonga was that we all had a really spectacular, wild, kinda classy time. Also we spend probably $400 on mugs so there is that.
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View all 683 Tonga Room regulars & visitors