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Get To Know The New Tonga Room
Carolyn Alburger | Photo: Carolyn Alburger | July 26, 2013
Same Indoor Pool. Fresh Menus. San Francisco’s favorite tiki joint floats new locally sourced food and cocktails.
A few things you need to know about The Tonga Room: 1) It was born in 1945 when The Fairmont Hotel constructed a tiki bar around its existing indoor pool. 2) Anthony Bourdain has called it “the greatest place in the history of the world.” 3) Just this year, it brought out the coconuts in Mitt Romney. 4) The cocktail and food menus were a tiki relic from the 1980s, until everything got a reboot earlier this month.
Now you can read phrases like “fresh and nutritionally balanced” and “locally sourced, organic, or sustainable” on the menus. The bar threw out all the sweet and sour mix and fake simple syrup. The kitchen is serving wild king salmon in season.
Anyone who has visited the bar through the years remembers the bible-like menu filled out with 21 tiki drinks—including things like a Bahama Mama, Chi-Chi, or a Banana Cow—that no one had ordered since 1985. Now the drink list has been edited down to this curated list of 10, with cute pictures that preserve Tonga’s inimitable kitsch.
Instead of cream, the piña colada is now made according to the original recipe of coconut milk, Coco Lopez, Cruzan blackstrap molasses rum, Bacardi select and fresh pineapple, lime, and lemon juices shaken over ice. The Mai Tai comes with two kinds of rum, natural orgeat, and fresh lime. And there’s an off-menu libation for anyone who needs to wake up: The Coffee Manhattan, made with Zaya rum, liquid coffee extract, and sweet vermouth.
Although some nostalgic types still prefer the sugary, syrupy drinks of yore, bar manager Jean-Philippe Cote says most people like the changes. The bar is seeing more emptied-out glasses than ever before.
The food menu has also undergone a major overhaul. Check out the new Polynesian-style share plates. Now there are barbecue pork belly sliders on King’s Hawaiian sweet rolls, poisson cru (a take on ceviche in a coconut shell), Kona short ribs, grilled ono with green curry, and a whole deep fried snapper served with pickled vegetables.
Take note, the important things haven’t changed. A line of colda-craving suits and tourists still forms nightly at the hostess stand at 5 p.m., and an indoor thunder storm erupts from the ceiling every hour like clockwork. It’s still magic after all these years.