San Francisco, CA

The Unique San Francisco Restaurant that Has a Lagoon Inside

Diana Rus

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Tonga Room & Hurricane BarPhoto byTonga Room & Hurricane Bar/ Facebook

Tonga Room & Hurricane Bar has a tropical and exuberant environment with live entertainment, dancing, and a rainstorm. Excellent Pacific Rim Asian cuisine is served at Tonga Room & Hurricane Bar in a tropical environment.

Beyond the Fairmont San Francisco's magnificent Beaux Arts exterior is a kitschy-cool utopia complete with a shimmering lagoon and thundering indoor rainstorms. One of the largest tiki spots in the world, Tonga Room & Hurricane Bar is located away below the lobby on the property's terrace level.

Location: 950 Mason Street, San Francisco, California 94108, United States

About Tonga Room & Hurricane Bar

The Tonga Room & Hurricane Bar is a restaurant and tiki bar located in San Francisco, California, at the Fairmont San Francisco hotel.

The tiki bar concept, like much of American pop culture, originated in Hollywood. The burdens of the Great Depression and a scarcity of commercial air travel all added to the lure of a real or imagined Polynesian getaway in the years after Prohibition.

With the establishment of his Don the Beachcomber bar in 1933, Donn Beach (neé Ernest Raymond Beaumont Gantt) is credited with developing the tiki aesthetic, which enveloped diners in tropical décor and rum-fueled cocktails such as the Zombie and Navy Grog.

Four years later, Beach's popularity prompted competing restaurateur Vic Bergeron — who went on to invent the tiki bar's signature drink, the Mai Tai — to rename his Oakland bar and diner Trader Vic's after the South Seas.

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Tonga Room & Hurricane BarPhoto byTonga Room & Hurricane Bar/ Facebook

The tiki craze had begun, and soon every major American city would have a tropical-inspired sanctuary to sip exotic beverages and feast on gussied-up versions of American-Asian dishes.

This restaurant and entertainment venue, which bears the name of the South Pacific country of Tonga, opened in 1945.

The Fairmont tasked legendary MGM set designer Mel Melvin with renovating the hotel's indoor pool — called the Terrace Plunge by celebrities — into a restaurant and bar that resembled a pool deck on a luxury cruise liner in 1945.

MelvMelvin was decorated with a newly themed diner with lifeboats, metal air vents, and life preservers rescued from the S.S. Forrester, a timber schooner that traveled from San Francisco to the South Pacific.

The pool was kept as the focal point, but a small boat was constructed to accommodate musicians who serenaded guests. The dining room's nightly thunderstorms were constructed in the 1950s, showering the pool with rainfall, flashing lights, and loud booms every thirty minutes.

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Tonga Room & Hurricane BarPhoto byTonga Room & Hurricane Bar/ Facebook

By the late 1960s, the Tonga Room had been transformed into the tiki masterpiece that it is today.

Tonga Room was one of several tropical-themed venues in San Francisco at the time, but it has outlasted virtually all of its rivals. Today, the pattern has returned, with countless contemporary, faux-Polynesian bars paying homage to the tiki joints that came before them.

The drink menu at Smuggler's Cove, a little tiki bar with an encyclopedic rum collection that launched in 2009, reads like a history of tiki bars and cocktails. Amid glittering glass floats and a rippling fountain, you'll find diorama-like monuments honoring long-closed San Francisco tiki establishments like Tiki Bob's and Skipper Kent's.

The Tonga Room was referred to as a "historical resource" in a planning department report for the City of San Francisco.

The report stated:

"The Tonga Room exhibits exceptional importance due to its rarity and as one of the best examples of 'high-style' Tiki bar/restaurant in San Francisco."
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Tonga Room & Hurricane BarPhoto byTonga Room/ Wikipedia

Menu & reservations

For decades, Tonga Room has charmed tourists (including the beloved Bourdain) with its unusual drinks and Asian-inspired appetizers. The lava rock monument represents the heritage of tiki culture and has sparked a tiki rebirth in San Francisco and beyond.

The menu includes crispy kalua pork tacos, ahi poke tostadas, and cauliflower fried rice, but Tonga's enchantment extends beyond the food.

Reservations are not permitted, with the exception of hotel guests. Between 5:00 and 10:00 p.m., everyone is welcome; after 10:00 p.m., it's 21+ only.

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Tonga Room & Hurricane BarPhoto byTonga Room & Hurricane Bar/ Facebook

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