Tonga Room San Francisco CLOSING?!?!

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Tonga Room San Francisco CLOSING?!?!

Postby progrocktv » Thu Feb 26, 2009 1:11 pm ... ndo-plans/

An alarm is going up amongst tiki-lovers and all those who appreciate San Francisco’s eclectic (hic!) history! The Tonga Room, the much loved tacky tiki bar in the Fairmont Hotel’s basement (California @ Mason in Nob Hill), is at great risk due to its owner’s plan to convert a large portion of the hotel into condominiums.

The plan would replace the existing Fairmont Hotel Tower with a new Residential Tower and in the process convert 226 hotel rooms into 160 condos. The Tonga Room is at the base of the existing tower.

The PDF for the Notice of Preparation of an Environmental Impact Report for the project shows both the existing and proposed layouts for the Fairmont. The Tonga Room is clearly missing in the envisioned building, replaced by a new grand ballroom.

But who cares? It’s just a bar, right? Just a bar!!! Are you kidding!?! It’s the Grand Kahuna of San Francisco tiki bars (a dying breed). It has a Boat! With a band on it! And long straws and crazy drink bowls and would you believe it even RAINS indoors?!?


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Postby Lynxwiler » Wed Mar 04, 2009 4:27 pm

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Postby progrocktv » Wed Mar 04, 2009 4:49 pm

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Postby ChrisLAXEncounter » Wed Mar 18, 2009 10:50 am

A few years back, I went to the the St. Francis and to my horrors saw the beloved "Compass Rose" was gone and then, venturing further into the hotel, saw that the fresco walls had been covered up.

Now this?

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Order a Mai Tai and Save Paradise NY Times April 5, 2009

Postby Steve Tepperman » Mon Apr 06, 2009 11:02 am

Order a Mai Tai and Save Paradise
Jim Wilson/The New York Times
TIKI TIME Patrons are flocking to the Tonga Room, a San Francisco fixture, to save it from possibly closing down.

POLYNESIAN UPRISING The Tonga Room now draws crowds, thanks to “happy hour protestsâ€￾ and Web site campaigns.
IT was, in many ways, a typical Saturday night at the Tonga Room: tiny umbrellas in hefty drinks, fake palms and real bamboo, and right in the middle of it all, a three-piece cover band was gently rocking — in more ways than one — on a thatched-top boat in the middle of a swimming pool.

But there was one crucial difference: people. And a lot of them, many drawn by reports that the Tonga Room, the venerable tiki bar in the basement of San Francisco’s luxurious Fairmont Hotel, might be demolished to make way for condominiums.

That sudden crush included first-timers like Collen Hammon-Hogan, a 28-year-old sculptor and funky-hat enthusiast who sat poolside, and admitted that he had never heard of Tonga Room till he heard it was closing.

“I wanted to come support it,â€￾ Mr. Hammon-Hogan said. “I mean, if we lose this, what’s next?â€￾

He is not alone. Bothered by a creeping sense that their city is losing some of its zing, San Franciscans have rallied around the Tonga Room. They’ve written letters, signed petitions and defiantly consumed more than their fair share of deep-dish drinks in this temple of tropical kitsch at the top of Nob Hill, the white-glove neighborhood that is home to some of the city’s grandest hotels and most exclusive clubs.

The Tonga isn’t one of them, but tiki enthusiasts rank the room — built in 1945 and equipped with an indoor thunderstorm, complete with sheets of sprinkler-produced rain, lightning and thunder — as one of the finest examples of faux Polynesian paradise around.

“It’s the only one that has a rainstorm of that scale,â€￾ said Otto Von Stroheim, the San Francisco-based founder of the Tiki News, a print and online newsletter. “It’s a classic.â€￾

That such a fight should break out in San Francisco, where protests are as common as fog, isn’t surprising. But the moment is telling. Over the last several years, San Francisco has had its raucous Halloween party canceled; its boozy Bay to Breakers footrace ordered to sober up; and its most famous sex club, the Power Exchange, just plain closed. Even some innocuously kooky events are under fire. Last month, the city’s Recreation and Parks Department told organizers of an annual Valentine’s Day pillow fight — adults, pillows, costumes, etc. — that they had to start cleaning up after themselves or face bedtime.

FOR many, the Tonga is more than a sight gag. It’s a potent nostalgic touchstone, a place where the combination of cocktails — like the Scorpion, a rum-and-something that carries a menu warning (“Beware! One too many may stingâ€￾) — and two-foot-long straws have lent a warm glow to untold numbers of honeymoons and anniversaries, first dates and last dances, birthdays and bar mitzvahs.

On a recent evening, crowds bumped on the club’s dance floor, which is made from the planks of an actual lumber schooner, flanked by ship’s riggings, sails and, of course, the pool, where streakers-turned-skinny-dippers have been known to take the occasional plunge.

“It’s so cute,â€￾ squealed one recent bachelorette, Megan Nock, 23, sitting at the bar, where her tiara lay next to a drink the size of a dog bowl. “We’re not your average Fairmont guests, so we like it here. We can hide.â€￾

Sure enough, with dark wood walls, thatched overhangs and a formidable totem at the front desk, the Tonga Room has also been the site of more than a few clandestine canoodlings, some of which were immortalized by Herb Caen, the famed San Francisco Chronicle columnist, who trumpeted the room’s happy hour and its famously strong mai tai.

Mr. Caen, who died in 1997, had seen other famed Fairmont bars close during his lifetime, but believed the tropical basement dive would always survive.

“The Tonga Room is safe,â€￾ he wrote in 1989, “except for drunks who fall in the pool.â€￾

That, of course, was then. A more common sight in recent years has been empty tables, a victim of changing tastes and a sense, maybe, that tiki — the postwar fad that seems to swing in and out of fashion every decade or so — isn’t hot at the moment. The club underwent a painstaking $1 million restoration just last year, but still wasn’t attracting sell-out crowds.

All that changed in January, when word leaked that the Fairmont’s owners had submitted plans for a condo conversion in an adjacent tower, which showed the space where the Tonga Room currently is but didn’t show the Tonga Room itself.

Several Web sites took note, and readers responded with a kind of hysterical dismay. “Dear God,â€￾ read one comment on CurbedSF, “What about the Tonga Room?â€￾

Hotel officials quickly cautioned that no construction was planned until at least 2012, but that hasn’t stopped San Franciscans from organizing “happy hour protestsâ€￾ at the club, a grueling brand of insurgency that involves drinking large numbers of house specialties like the Tonga Itch, which contains vodka, rum, Curaçao and pineapple juice. (Aspirin not included.)

Publicity about its possible closure has made the Tonga Room — temporarily, at least — one of the hottest clubs in town on weekends, with lines at the door, dozens of leis on the tables and fans like Chad Rusch crowding the bar.

“It’s a heavy pour and that’s how it should be,â€￾ said Mr. Rusch, 44, a chef at the Hard Rock Cafe. “If I see the bartender use a jigger, I’m going to smack him.â€￾

It being San Francisco — a city whose night life largely lives and dies with the health of nearby Silicon Valley — tiki advocates went online, starting petitions and Web sites devoted to rallying the faithful and rebutting assertions that the club should close.

WHEN the San Francisco Chronicle columnist C. W. Nevius suggested that the Tonga Room might have outlived its use — “Here’s some advice, San Francisco: You can’t save everythingâ€￾ — the response was vociferous.

“Let’s see, outdated, irrelevant, and only appealing to old folks?â€￾ one reader wrote. “Sounds like the newspaper to me.â€￾

Ouch. Chris Hodges, a 33-year-old urban planner who set up a “Save Tongaâ€￾ Facebook site, said he was impressed by the response — more than 4,000 members — particularly after moving from the bigger, more hardened wilds of New York.

“This city’s literally a tenth of the size of New York,â€￾ Mr. Hodges said, “so there’s a sense that people can make a difference.â€￾

The city’s eccentric tradition dates at least to Emperor Norton, a Gold Rush-era San Franciscan madman who declared himself emperor of the United States, and includes everything from the Beats to Burning Man.

“I think people see these things eroding away and are trying to preserve them,â€￾ said Scott Beale, the founder of, a Web site that chronicles the city’s counterculture. “The Tonga is part of that.â€￾

Politicians, for now, aren’t getting involved. Nathan Ballard, a spokesman for Mayor Gavin Newsom, said he sympathized with the nostalgia but wondered how long it would last.

“I think to most San Franciscans, the Tonga is like Alcatraz or the Coit Tower, â€￾ Mr. Ballard said. “We say we love it, but let’s be honest, we never really go there.â€￾

That said, Tom Klein, the hotel’s general manager, said the recent campaign — and the sell-outs on Friday and Saturday nights — had led hotel officials to consider moving the Tonga Room elsewhere if the condo deal goes through.

“Will it actually sway a decision one way or another? I don’t know,â€￾ Mr. Klein said. “Will it influence whether we should preserve or recreate that Tonga experience somewhere elsewhere? Absolutely.â€￾

Such landlocked concerns seemed miles away, however, on Wednesday night, as Island Groove — the band on the boat — was towed slowly to the middle of the pool. Unlike on the weekend, the Tonga Room was about half-empty, but Jane and Tom Young, middle-aged newlyweds from Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., seemed to be having a good time.

“It’s just kind of strange to find this in the Fairmont,â€￾ said Ms. Young, who swayed a little in her seat to the tropical beat. “It’s just kind of freaky.â€￾

“Yeah,â€￾ said her husband. “But it’s good freaky.â€￾

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Postby nichols » Tue Sep 08, 2009 1:14 pm

I thought this era of unenlightenment was over...


Tonga Room a landmark? Not so fast

John King

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

In an orderly world, architectural landmarks would be easy to spot. We'd all agree that this house or that shop deserves protection, as sure as Frank Lloyd Wright wore a cape.

Instead, I'm sitting in the Fairmont Hotel's Tonga Room, wondering whether its lava walls, thatched roofs and pool-turned-lagoon add up to a future San Francisco Landmark.

Don't laugh: An architectural expert is making the case that this bar...

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Postby Nathan » Fri Sep 11, 2009 6:33 pm


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