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Friday, September 24, 2010

Tonga Room Happy Hour: All-You-Can-Eat Tiki Kitsch

Posted By on Fri, Sep 24, 2010 at 4:16 PM

click to enlarge Lava bowl for four ― the bar's fairly extensive happy hour spread offers its share of deep-fried, sweet-and-sour landmines. - ZEMISTOR/FLICKR
  • Zemistor/Flickr
  • Lava bowl for four ― the bar's fairly extensive happy hour spread offers its share of deep-fried, sweet-and-sour landmines.
The place: Tonga Room, 950 Mason (at California, in the Fairmont Hotel), 772-5278

The hours: Wed.-Fri., 5-7 p.m.

The deals: All-you-can-eat $10 buffet of quasi-Island specialties

The digs: Exuberant, time-honored tiki bar extraordinaire with lots of over-the-top Jungle Cruise ambience: wall-to-wall palm fronds, totem poles, fertility gods, tribal masks, ship's riggings, thatched-roof booths, and regularly scheduled tropical downpours replete with thunder, lightning, and sheets of rainwater. There's even a raft out in the makeshift lagoon where a band serves up Lido Deck dance music.

The verdict: San Francisco's most delightfully kitschy nightspot has been enchanting tourist and native alike since the 1940s (and, if the rumors are to be believed, may not be enchanting anyone much longer), but its cuisine has never been particularly inspired, and the bar's fairly extensive happy hour spread offers its share of deep-fried, sweet-and-sour landmines. The lumpia, short ribs, chicken wings, and shrimp and spinach dumplings are pretty tasty, though, and they go surprisingly well with the joint's excellent tropical cocktails, elaborate, foliage-festooned concoctions served in league-high flagons, hollowed-out pineapples, faux coconut shells, and ceramic vessels that would be right at home aboard a pirate's schooner. Speared fruit and tiny umbrellas included!

Overall grade: B+

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