Tonga Room History and Legacy of San Francisco’s Iconic Tiki Bar

tonga room san francisco dining area
Festive ambiance in the Tonga Room's dining area.

The Tonga Room is a legendary tiki bar and restaurant located in the heart of San Francisco. It is known for its tropical decor, live music, and delicious Polynesian-inspired cuisine. But what many people don’t know is the incredible history and legacy behind the Tonga Room and the people who created it.

The Devore Family and the Creation of the Tonga Room

tonga room san francisco entrance
Entrance to the Tonga Room and Hurricane Bar at the Fairmont Hotel.

The Tonga Room was created in 1945 by Mel Melvin and his business partner, Ernie Wong, with the help of the Devore family. The Devores were a prominent San Francisco family who had made their fortune in the shipping industry. Mel Melvin was a close friend of the Devore family and they helped finance the construction of the Tonga Room.

The Tonga Room was originally designed as a small bar and restaurant, but it quickly became a local hotspot for San Francisco’s elite. In 1948, the Devore family purchased the Fairmont Hotel, where the Tonga Room was located, and they immediately began expanding the bar and restaurant.

tonga room ambiance san francisco
Tonga Room and Hurricane Bar tiki and pirate ship ambiance.

The Devore family spared no expense when it came to the Tonga Room’s decor. They hired Hollywood set designers to create a tropical paradise inside the bar, complete with a lagoon, waterfalls, and a thatched roof. They also added a stage for live music and entertainment, making the Tonga Room a destination for locals and tourists alike.

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The Tonga Room Today

Today, the Tonga Room remains one of San Francisco’s most iconic bars and restaurants. The decor has been updated over the years, but the tropical theme and live music have remained a staple of the Tonga Room experience.

tonga room san francisco dining area
Festive ambiance in the Tonga Room’s dining area.

One of the most popular attractions at the Tonga Room is the indoor rainstorm. Every 30 minutes, a simulated thunderstorm rolls through the bar, complete with lightning, thunder, and rain pouring down on the lagoon. It’s a unique and memorable experience that has been delighting patrons for decades.

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Romanic dining at the Tonga Room and Hurricane Bar in San Francisco.

Tonga Room Menu

The Tonga Room also offers a delicious menu of Polynesian-inspired cuisine, including dishes like Kalua Pork, Coconut Shrimp, and Ahi Poke.

tonga room fried vegetable dumplings
Tonga Room’s fried vegetable dumplings were decent but not fantastic.

We way over ordered and tried a bunch of different options while we were there.

tonga room asian chicken salad
Tonga Room’s asain chicken salad  is amazingly delicious! Perfect size for dinner.
tonga room chicken fried rice
Tonga Room’s chicken fried rice was very delicious, but needed a little more soy sauce.

We seriously over ordered!

28 hour grilled short ribs.
28 hour grilled short ribs with asparagus, peppers, in a mustard demi-glaze.

Tiki drinks

If you’re going to legendary tiki bar your going to order some tiki drinks. We try to order a few classics and a modern tiki drink as a way to best judge their skills.

Siren's Song punch bowl to share
Siren’s Song: Contains Agricole Rhum, Cachaça, Guava, Passion Fruit, Lime, Orange, Ginger beer
1944 Mai Tai and the 1934 Zombie
1944 Mai Tai and the 1934 Zombie: The original recipe from Don the Beachcomber.

It was fun having these nostalgic original recipes, but I’ve had better “original recipes” Don’s Mai Tai, so I’m not sure what was going on with the bartenders that night.

The Legacy of the Tonga Room

The Tonga Room has been a San Francisco institution for over 75 years, and its legacy is intertwined with the history of the Devore family. The Devores were not only instrumental in the creation of the Tonga Room, but they also played a major role in the development of San Francisco’s shipping industry and the city’s economy as a whole.

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Enjoying live music in the Tonga tiki room!

Today, the Tonga Room serves as a reminder of San Francisco’s rich history and cultural diversity. It’s a place where people of all backgrounds can come together to enjoy good food, great music, and a unique atmosphere. And with its loyal following and storied history, the Tonga Room is sure to remain a San Francisco icon for generations to come.

The Tonga Room is more than just a tiki bar – it’s a testament to the ingenuity and creativity of the people who created it. The Devore family’s vision and dedication to creating a tropical paradise in the heart of San Francisco has resulted in a bar and restaurant that has become a beloved institution for locals and tourists alike. From the indoor rainstorm to the Polynesian-inspired cuisine, the Tonga Room is a one-of-a-kind experience that should not be missed.