The Storm Brewing Over the Tonga Room


These days the Tonga Room—the Fairmont Hotel's thatched-walled, indoor-raining temple of Tiki Kitsch—finds itself in more danger, more often than Elisha Kuthbert’s ever-threatened Kim Bauer on the first season of 24. The current state of the historic bar's impending closure has the Fairmont turning it and the 28 stories above it into condos.

Yet, what’s more thrilling than the constant state of suspense as to the tiki bar’s fate, is seeing it discussed by the “serious” media. To that end we have John King’s column about it in last week’s Chronicle. That spawned this response in the Chron by John Carrol, as well this Tonga Room discussion with Michael Krasny on KQED's forum. (Best part? Hearing Krasny define a tiki bar as: "an exotic themed drinking establishment that serves fancy cocktails." Wouldn't Bourbon & Branch qualify as a tiki under that definition?) The impetus for all this discussion is whether or not the Tonga Room should be landmarked by the city, as is advocated on its preservation Facebook page.

My take? Of course the Tonga Room should be landmarked, bad drinks and all. It's a bar, and we need it! And though the Tonga Room may be the most "beautiful" and best-preserved tiki bar in the country, Martin Cate's tiki spot Smuggler's Cove, opening in November, is guaranteed to be a better bar. Yet, as a rising tide floats all ships, Smuggler's Cove (which, I'll predict right now, is going to be awesome) may help the Tonga Room's cause. In the meantime, I have a suggestion for the Fairmont, which could save a lot of headaches: Keep the Tonga Room, just build the condos on top of it. But call them Tongdos and give them all Polynesian decor and shag carpeting.

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