Pro Con List and the Tonga Room

Wednesday, May 5, 2010  |  Updated 5:00 PM PDT
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Pro Con List and the Tonga Room

zemistor / Flickr

A strike means you'll have to cancel your plans at the Tonga Room or Top of the Mark if you have any sense of solidarity.

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Last week's reveal of the draft environmenal report for the Fairmont Hotel showed that the city had outlined a couple strategies for saving the Tonga Room from getting the ax. A Chron report Wednesday reveals the flip side: Maritz Wolff & Co., the owners of the Fairmont, are bristling at suggestions that the tiki bar should be saved.

First of all, mind you, attendance has been dying off for years, and as Chron columnist C.W. Nevius argued last year, the rally cry to save the Tonga probably has more to do with nostalgia than its being a mainstay of San Franciscans.

On top of that, Fairmont's owners don't seem interested in the least in keeping the Tonga around: "The hotel is going to become more intimate and upscale, and the food and beverage will need to reflect that.  If I asked today to put a use like the Tonga Room in this traditional Beaux Arts hotel, do you think I'd be able to get permission? It's so inconsistent."

A "rare remaining example" of kitschy tiki bars.

But if there is a reason to keep — in Nevius's words —the "big, lavish single-screen movie houses, the quaint shoemaker on the corner, and the Tonga Mai Tai," it might be in this analysis of its place in history: the Tonga Room "represents a rare remaining example of a distinct phase of post-World War II popular culture, and includes a substantial number of distinctive characteristics."

Anyway, plans for the new Fairmont call for moving the hotel's ballroom up to the Tonga Room's current location, which means the bar's going to have to move — whether it returns in one piece, as suggested by the draft EIR, is the question.

Meanwhile, at least one Nob Hill resident hopes all the Fairmont's plans for a new, boutiquey version of itself go through, because otherwise they'd have to drop prices to keep customers, and then all of a sudden it'll be a "Holiday Inn with RVs parked here."
 

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