One of the coolest things about The
Tonga Room & Hurricane Bar is that it means such different things to so
many people. Some take it at face value while others love it for the kitsch
appeal. And those who have been around for a while see it as a nostalgic romp
back to their salad days. For me it is a little bit of all these things.
I first went to the Tonga Room 20 years
ago after a wedding in San Francisco. Back then, it was pretty run down, but
the vibe was basically the same (though I am pleased to report that the food
these days is infinitely better). I remember marveling at the surroundings when
the band climbed onto the pontoon at the far end of the lagoon. Suddenly the
heavens opened up and it started raining—which is pretty surprising and
impressive the first time you see it happen. Then, as if a tropical storm
inside an old tiki bar isn’t enough, the pontoon floated out to the middle of
the lagoon as the band kicked into a high-energy rendition of the old B.J.
Thomas classic “Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head”. I laughed so hard that I
cried—right into my pina colada.
This time around it was even more fun
because they rolled out the red carpet—and a suckling pig—for us. And the group
of regulars who agreed to be part of the shoot really embodied the spirit of
the room (the fact that we were picking up their drink tab might have had
something to do with the extra hoots and hollers). They danced, limboed, and ukuleleed
the night away like there was no tomorrow. In fact it was their contagious
enthusiasm, with a little added encouragement from my Mai Thai that enticed me
to jump into the lagoon at the end of the night.
the snobbish attitude and red velvet ropes that accompany many chic hotel bars
these days, the folks at the Fairmont Hotel recognize and embrace the fact that
the Tonga Room is a much-loved institution of the people. They go out of their
way to make sure that every single person who walks into the room leaves with a
memorable experience. If you have a chance to make the pilgrimage, be sure to
get there at happy hour. You can eat like Hawaiian royalty for the price of a
cocktail. And just one note of warning: if you are tempted to take the same
leap that I did, be forewarned, the water is COOOOOOLD!