By Omar Mamoon
By Kate Williams
By Pete Kane
By Molly Gore
By Lou Bustamante
By Anna Roth
Before you read this, ask yourself, "How much do I want the Tonga Room to change?" If the answer is "A lot," you're going to be disappointed. You're also a joyless buzzkill.
The tiki palace that looks like David Lynch's afterlife destination buried in the Fairmont Hotel has been an international treasure of cultural appropriation since the end of World War II. It has theoretically been updated, but apart from new walls and three or four new cocktails that are just as saccharine as all the others, not much stands out. (Of those, the hurricane is much better than the Pineapple Royale, which does come in a pineapple, and there is also a rum punchbowl on loan from Smuggler's Cove). Like the Catholic Church, it's probably good for this institution to ride out most fads unscathed, so we're not weeping that there aren't reclaimed subway tiles and Mason jars everywhere.
The dinner menu does lurch closer to contemporary California-Asian cuisine, with Niman Ranch short ribs and wild shrimp and chili dumplings sharing space with the hot pot and pu-pu platter. The happy hour buffet is no great shakes (although for $10 per person, two can stuff themselves for barely more than the cost of a single drink), but vegetable lo mein, edamame, and chicken lollipops are just fine, because this is the Tonga Room and you're here for the magical ambience. It still rains every half hour on the half hour, and you still get to keep your hurricane glass when you leave. (Please compost your pineapple after that selfie, though).
San Francisco, CA 94108
The only thing the Tonga Room needs is actual torches lining the walls. But in a large, expensive hotel whose history is tied to the city that once burned down all around it, that's probably a no-go. Oh well. Don't ever change, Tonga Room!