Save The Tonga Room Update and the Tiki Bars of San Francisco

guest post by mikl-em

Following up on my earlier post about the threat to The Tonga Room, San Francisco’s treasured tiki bar, is now up and running with a petition that folks can sign to ask the city to preserve the bar.

The Save the Tonga Room! Facebook group now has 1700+ members, and plans an event this Friday to organize and show up en masse at the Nob Hill bar in full tiki regalia.

Meanwhile has a second post with a quote from the Fairmont folks saying the final outcome is being studied–though you only have to look at the image in the plans to see there’s no place for the Tonga Room where there used to be.

There’s still an active thread going on at, a good place to watch for updates. Sfist also weighed in, not to mention posts by Boing Boing and jwz (who remains hard at work saving The DNA Lounge).

While blogs & social media have continued to drive this story, a few major media outfits have weighed in (though often by reprinting blog coverage). The story did appear in a Matier & Ross column from the also possibly soon defunct San Francisco Chronicle. No mention of the online outcry or the fact that their paper’s reporting on the remodel failed to notice the threat to the landmark bar. There are 200+ reader comments on the article though, with more great stories and plenty of outrage about the situation.

In possibly unrelated news, the Tonga Room is now closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, not sure how long that’s been the case (it was open 7-days a week a year ago, which is the last entry in the Wayback Machine).

I mentioned in the previous post that Tonga Room is one of 8 remaining Tiki bars. That’s actually a little misleading. This number includes all the bars in San Francisco proper that could remotely be considered tiki (and note it doesn’t include the great classic Trader Vic’s or the precious and precocious newcomer in Alameda Forbidden Island, or other bars that are in the larger Bay Area).

Here is the list of the bars that remain in SF in order of their user feedback ranking on Critiki, a site that lists 650+ tiki bars across the country.

  1. The Tonga RoomRated 7.4 out of 10 on Critiki
  2. Bamboo HutRated 7.2 out of 10 on Critiki
  3. Lingba — is a great place, an upscale lounge that has tropical drinks and decor, but not the classic tiki vibe exactly Rated 7.2 out of 10 on Critiki
  4. Trad’r Sam — a true landmark of San Francisco bar culture, a great and fun dive to visit, but not a true tiki bar Rated 6.2 out of 10 on Critiki: actually pre-dates tiki, and is an extremely rare example of the bamboo bars that were in some cities in the ’20s and ’30s.
  5. Hukilau— a small chain, including one located in Honolulu, that is expressly a Hawaiian restaurant. They don’t exactly do the vintage Tiki thing, they do have a lot of spam (the edible kind). Rated 5.7 out of 10 on Critiki
  6. Jack’s Cannery Bar — this is apparently just the back bar within the larger tourist bar that is Jack’s, limited info here; Rated 3.5 out of 10 on Critiki
  7. Hawaii West — not really a Tiki bar, though the decor represents a bit, it apparently has a 40-year history of same family Asian-American ownership which gets it some points Rated 2.9 out of 10 on Critiki
  8. Lanai Motel — looks like it doesn’t exist anymore no rating on Critiki

So that’s 7 actually, a few of which could be considered only tiki-like. And, while you can quibble about the rankings, the main point is that the Tonga Room is unquestionably one of the best and eldest examples of a dying breed of classic and beloved bars. Critiki includes rankings for defunct tiki bars as well, including another 10 in San Francisco. San Francisco has a great history of tiki bars, but at this point there are more in history than in the present.