Tonga Room

Bar & Restaurant
950 Mason Street
San Francisco, California, United States
Ph: (415) 772-5278 - Website
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Sun 5pm-11:45pm
Mon-Tue closed
Wed-Thu 5pm-11:45pm
Fri & Sat 5pm-12:45am
Opened in 1945
Defunct tiki not included,
distances are as the crow flies.
Hawaii West, San Francisco 0.4 mi
0.7 km
Bamboo Hut, San Francisco 0.5 mi
0.8 km
Smuggler's Cove, San Francisco 1.1 mi
1.8 km
Aqua Surf Shop, San Francisco 2.7 mi
4.3 km
de Young Museum, San Francisco 3.5 mi
5.6 km
picture, 66
A dining room overlooking the lagoon at Tonga Room in San Francisco
July 2014, photo by Humuhumu
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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.

How to find it:
The Tonga Room is in a lower level of the Fairmont Hotel, two floors below the lobby level. Since the Fairmont is on a hill, there is a south-side entrance to the building on California St. That entry is on the same level as the Tonga Room, if you enter here, follow the hall to the other end of the building.
Parking:
Parking in this neighborhood is extremely difficult. There is a mix of free parking and 2-hour limit metered parking (until 6pm or 9pm) in the neighborhood. If you try to park in the neighborhood, expect to spend about 15 minutes to find a spot about four blocks away. The Fairmont has a valet parking lot for about $20-30, and there is another parking lot just west of the hotel for about the same amount.
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There are 18 comments.
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July 18, 2010, 9:17 AM
In the early 2000s, this was my favorite tiki bar I had ever visited. During my first visit, I witnessed a "thunder storm" (which I did not expect), followed by a band on a little "barge" in their faux "lagoon," starting off with a cover of "Girl from Ipanema." I was sold. While Fairmont management seems to have it deteriorate a bit (perhaps due to its impending doom), it is still a wonder to behold. As far as tiki environments are concerned, this is right at the top in regards to the lighting, the decor, the drinks, and the music. The drinks are overpriced (even for tiki drinks), but this has still got to be seen or experienced to be believed. Check it out before it's too late!
hoho has visited Tonga Room.

July 23, 2010, 6:49 PM
I just visited the Tonga Room last week. Rushed to get there before it closed (whenever that might be). Stopped by the night before on a Tuesday and it was closed so not sure if they're just cutting back on hours? But it was very impressive. Didn't care too much for the kids in bad leis playing on the dance floor but the Tikis were beautiful, the lagoon and the rain made me feel like I was in a Martin Denny video. Very dark, moody, and jungly. Wish the band was a little more exotica oriented but...I had a Scorpion which was very good, but kinda small especially for the price. I'm hoping it will still be open when I come back in September for a Tiki Tour. The bartender (does he know something??) said it wouldn't be closing for at least 2 years. I'm still very excited to have been there and can't wait to get back.
Eme has visited Tonga Room.

August 21, 2010, 10:47 AM
Ah-Oooo-GAH! My wife and I had cocktails and dinner at the Tonga Room a few days ago and were very happy with the experience. The room has been around since 1945 (it was the pool in the earlier part of the last century) so it's been around for a while; and is in great shape / under great management.

POSITIVES: The ambience is wonderful, with the small lagoon and floating stage that resembles a boat. I loved the tropical downpour / thunderstorm effects that presage the beginning of the evening's entertainment. The Mai Tais were good & strong, so they do not skimp on rum. The food was also good, but not great. I loved the decor: with the thatched roofs, "lagoon" and the dance floor that looks just like the deck of a ship- complete with rat lines, block(s) and tackle etc...

NEGATIVES: The music, while pleasant enough had nay neither a surfing tune nor a lounge lizard song anywhere in the repertoire! Alas! The songs were mostly old disco tunes (Donna Summer, Bee Gees etc...) so that marred the ambience somewhat. And as wonderful as the decor was / is, there weren't enough tikis! To those tiki aficionados looking for a kitschy tiki experience- this may not be the place 4 you! There are no Japanese glass floats, dried blow fish etc...
Patio Daddy-O has visited Tonga Room.

August 21, 2010, 10:50 AM
NEGATIVES: Almost forgot! While the Mai Tais were good, the taste of the canned pineapple juice lingered somewhat unpleasantly. I know- if they used genuine juice the price would go up 20% or more so there is that :-) And I wished the wait staff had more colorful / tropical attire. Dressed as they are / were in standard black / white uniforms they did nothing to add to the Polynesian theme.
Patio Daddy-O has visited Tonga Room.

October 31, 2010, 7:58 PM
This was one of the first restaurant/bars I was able to get into when I was 16 in the late 70's (although the people I was with were a little bit older than me and it was the disco era. Probably the same music that Patio Daddy-O heard above). The whole theme is what brings people back here over and over again. Although I havent been back in probably 10 years, I'd hate to see it go away. Its a bit of that nostalgia that SF is known for. But to be honest, it really isnt a restaurant for the Fairmont caliber(never has been) but it does make for fun and good times. Dont expect a great meal but do expect to have a great time. Its a must see for SF visitors.

May 9, 2011, 9:43 AM
Just went to the Tonga room. It is DEFINITELY worth seeing. As far as atmosphere goes we give this place two thumbs up. The management and wait staff seem to be under the impression that this is a fancy restaurant so we felt a little funny when we showed up in jeans and tshirts but it seemed there was a variety of people there. The dim lighting, surplus of thatch and bamboo, the cool old pool/lagoon and the floating band barge can't be beat.

The drinks were super expensive ($12 on the cheap end) but they were well garnished and served in fun tiki mugs or pineapples! The service was good but formal for the place and the food was quite tasty and tropical themed (but also pricey).

The music was horrible. Nothing tiki about it and that was a disappointment but other than that it was suprisingly good for being located on top of "SNOB" Hill is SF in the most fancy-pants snooty hotel I've ever seen.
Sneaky Tiki has visited Tonga Room.

July 14, 2011, 6:39 PM
The atmosphere is amazing, but the entertainment is jarringly non-tiki. The drinks are overpriced and the staff tends towards resistance, as If you're wasting their time by being there. My friend, who is wearing a leg cast, was scolded for leaving her unsightly wounded in view of other guests. While I still like the venue, the experience and value is much better at Trader Vic's.
Spookilau has visited Tonga Room.

October 26, 2011, 4:07 PM
Hello,

I'm researching for a show called "World's Weirdest Restaurants", being produced by Paperny Entertainment for Food Network Canada. The show travels around the world profiling unique dining experiences in an entirely positive and celebratory manner.

We will be shooting a segment at the Tonga Room in late November. I loved your reviews on the restaurant. We're looking to profile people who are die-hard fans of the Tonga Room and can talk about why it's such a San Francisco institution.

I'd love to hear your thoughts and possibly feature you in our segment. Please give me a call at 604-873-9777 ext. 260, or email me at leanne.yu@papernyentertainment.com

Looking forward to hearing from you.

Kind regards,

Leanne Yu
Researcher, "World's Weirdest Restaurants"
Paperny Films, Inc.
2043 Quebec St., Vancouver, BC
V5T 2Z6 Canada
O: 604.873.9777 ext. 260
F: 604.873.9778
www.papernyentertainment.com

November 18, 2011, 8:09 PM
Upscale Tiki... I didn't think such was possible until I went to the Tonga Room. Enough Mai Tai's and it's easy to picture the San Francisco socialites and Hollywood elite of 60 years ago sitting at tables beside you and having drinks at the bar...
Right_D has visited Tonga Room.

November 22, 2011, 7:52 AM
I grew up in San Francisco and used to run around the Fairmont Hotel just scouting out places and riding the elevator up to the Crown Room...great kid adventures! Didn't get to the Tonga Room often, but I recall my friend Steve having his 30th Birthday celebration there. Then as now, they had that very un-Tiki band playing on the floating raft. It's really my only thumbs down comment re. the Tonga Room. If I was in charge (ha!) there would be traditional Hawaiian tunes being played....with a touch of Exotica...that'd be the perfect music for one of the world's most unique dining destinations. The food and drinks are fun....but it's the total vibe of the place that makes you love it. Sure hope they can keep it alive there at the Fairmont. Our last visit was in 2009. We live in Nasville and only get home to CA every 2 years. Hope to visit the Tonga again soon.
Tiki D is a semi-regular at Tonga Room.

November 27, 2011, 10:22 PM
Before my gripes, let me say there is much to love about the Tonga room. It is a relic of a bygone era, and has a lot of history. So much so, that when the Fairmont hotel wanted to renovate it into a "hip" new place, the local community rallied to save the institution. It really is beautiful to look at. It probably ranks as one of the top ten traditional "tiki" polynesian restaraunts that are still standing. The pool in the center is beautiful, and the thunder and rain are definitely a nice touch to the atmosphere. The food was great, I had the Chicken Satay, and the Tonga rice (some of the best rice I've ever had. Now on to the negatives: In a place this historic, it is disappointing that they only have one created coctail. My waiter told me that the Ginger Mojito that they served was created there. Regardless or not, it was very tasty. The Tonga room also has some tiki mugs, but they all say made in china on them and do not denote that they are specifically made for the tonga room, they are probably plain mugs you could get through a supplier, but pay extra because you get them at the tonga room. Also, a band started playing retro 70's and 80's music. It got some old people on the dance floor, but I was looking for an exotic dinner. Still if you are in San Fran and appreciate polynesian tiki places, be sure to visit this historic place just to say you have been there.
PackmanWSU01 has visited Tonga Room.

April 16, 2012, 2:47 PM
It’s a joke the Tonga Room is not currently in the Critiki Top 25. This is a vintage tiki gem. See it while you can! A few practical notes from my visit: The place is only open for dinner and only five nights a week. It can also occasionally be completely rented out for private parties. It helps then to do a little homework. Call ahead of time and make some plans. If you want to have dinner and wish to dine before 9pm, you’ll need to make a reservation and likely several days in advance at that. Alternately, go for the happy hour (5 to 7) but get there EARLY or expect to wait. The prices are HIGH. Take a look around at the Fairmont Hotel as you make your way down to the Tonga and you’ll get the idea. But don’t miss this one.
kenbo-jitsu has visited Tonga Room.

May 4, 2012, 1:16 AM
come for happy hour drinks but avoid the buffet. drinks can be hit or miss but in general are very strong.
exquisitecorpse has visited Tonga Room.

January 3, 2013, 6:31 PM
I have been here a bunch of times. I think the place is great. Awesome atmosphere, great crowd and the music floating in the pool while it rains is incredible. The drinks are good, not as good as Trader Vic's, but what can you do. The only think I don't like about this place is the food. It is really bad. It is a shame that such a great place has less than mediocre food. Anyway, I come back for the drinks.
Raider Rich is a semi-regular at Tonga Room.

February 18, 2013, 10:52 AM
The Tiki ambience of the Tonga Room is amazing. This is a historic gem. I will say that the drinks are not very good. If you know your exotic cocktails, there will be disappointment. But it is what it is. But hey! Your at Tonga Room. :)
forgotten tikiman has visited Tonga Room.

August 14, 2013, 3:11 AM
This is an exotic feast for the eyes. Average to good cocktails. They have a new Chef that is creating amazing food. This is a must see. San Fransisco is so lucky to have this historic Tiki room.
kilaueakyd has visited Tonga Room.

August 15, 2014, 1:42 PM
I just updated my critiki score of the Tonga Room based on my last couple visits. Since hiring a new chef and F&B manager, the food and beverages have improved greatly. So happy to see fresh juices and decent spirits rather than a bunch of store-bought bottles of flavored syrups behind the bar. I also noted that the service doesn't seem near as snarky as it has in earlier visits and the food options, even in the happy hour buffet, are better as well.
JenTiki is a semi-regular at Tonga Room.

December 8, 2014, 12:02 AM
Having seen a real, authentic, non-ironic tiki bar (I've visited La Mariana Sailing Club in Honolulu a bunch of times), I was interested to see the Tonga room. Décor reminds me of what someone might think a tiki bar should look like, not like what an authentic tiki bar actually looks like. Drinks were heavy on the fruit juices & syrup, not a lot a alcohol in mine. People were mostly visitors staying at the hotel & some hipsters; the waitress kept trying to get us to move to a different table, as "there's people waiting for a table this size". Overall, an average tiki bar experience, not much to refer.

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