Tiki Terrific: The Fairmont San Francisco’s Fabulous Tonga Room

Was the Blonde Bombshell champagne concoction I’d just quaffed in the Fairmont San Franciso’s tony lobby lounge a tad stronger than I realized? Walking into the hotel’s subterranean Tonga Room and Hurricane Bar, I was sure I was seeing (and hearing) things.

I had expected the paper umbrellas in the Mai Tais. I assumed there might be some Polynesian-style carved heads and maybe a few plastic palms. But when the gentle tropical rain began falling around the turquoise lagoon, complete with flashes of lightening and claps of thunder, I had to ask my companion if he saw and heard it, too.

Affirmative. And he nodded towards the equally astonishing Don Ho-esque musical combo playing from a boat-like stage in the center of the lagoon. All around us octogenarians danced with each other’s grandchildren. We were in the midst of a family celebration, Fairmont San Francisco style, as well as in the center of a surreal South Pacific Hollywood dream, straight from the 1940s. Or maybe they were just all stragglers from the earlier $7 happy hour buffet with dim sum.

Walking back to my room, my ears ringing with the refrain from “Tiny Bubbles,” I peered at a collage of black and white photos hanging in the hall. Here lay the Tonga Room’s history. The lagoon was originally a swimming pool called the Terrace Plunge, opened in 1929 and christened with a dive by actress Helen Hayes. In 1945, the room was remodeled to become the Tonga Room and Hurricane Bar. Along with the Polynesian décor and storm effects, it’s got an exceptional dance floor, built from the remains of the SS Forester, a four-masted lumber schooner that sailed regularly between The City and the South Sea Islands in the early 1900s.

If you don’t have any plans yet for December 31st, consider The Tonga Room. For $185 (plus tax and tip) it’s offering a five-course prix-fixe dinner, with champagne at midnight, and party favors. Or, for a $50 cover charge, there’s entertainment and dancing in the bar.

Tiki on! Fairmont San Franciso’s.

Posted by Maureen Littlejohn on December 16, 2005 in Travel

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