Even though James has been doing his Tiki Tours off and on since 2001 I never managed to be a part of it till this year. Oddly enough, shortly after he announced this years crawl word came out that the infamous Tonga room might soon be bulldozed to make way for some shitty condos… because what the downtown area really needs right now are more shitty condos. That made this year’s Tiki Tour that much more special and something I knew I had to check out.
The Tonga Room has been around since the 1920s and is located at 950 Mason Street in the basement of the Fairmont hotel. Mason Street itself is a trip and a half; those are some of the steepest streets in San Francisco. I’m talking serious Lord of the Rings type pilgrimages just to go a few blocks. You have to be fucking committed if you want to be a part of this fellowship.
James once described the Tonga room to me as feeling like crashing a stranger’s wedding. There’s the superseding feeling that you don’t belong there. There are senior citizens getting drunk and making out on the dance floor, staff members giving you the evil eye, and the one lone bartender that I suspect has also been there since the 1920s and is permanently stuck on Hawaiian time. It’s a creepy, surreal, and very, very, beautiful vibe.
Getting lost in the Fairmont hotel just trying to find the Tonga Room was a neat adventure. Not all the elevators go down to the basement, just the ones that have the button marked T (for the Tonga Room). It’s neat little touches like that that make you feel like you are part of the secret club. Like ordering the animal style fries at In and Out Burger. I also loved the marble elevator floor.
Even the carpet in the Fairmont basement felt like dropping acid and then falling into a Shining flashback.
There were quite a few older folks with great old folks personalities that looked like they were regulars. While standing in line to get in, a Montgomery Burns type guy and his Smithers submissive walked past me. Burns eyeballed my sweater, made a face, and then blurted out
“Raiders?! I don’t like the Raiders!”
“No one does, Sir. No one does.” I replied.
Burns and Smithers laughed all the way out the door. I love old people sometimes. They’ve lived their life, they’re about to face God, they don’t give a fuck, and aren’t afraid to speak their minds.
There was this great older guy on the dance floor that looked exactly like the scary preacher from Poltergeist 2, except he was dressed better with a flashy red bandanna and matching jacket with neat patches. Homeboy was a copilot on the dance floor. If I was a paparazzi type of photographer I would have been taking pictures of that guy all night long, but I have a soul so I don’t roll that way.
Here are a few of the pictures that I did take
According to the Fairmont’s page
A gleaming dance floor provides space for guests to dance; little do they realize that it was originally the deck of the S.S. Forrester, one of the last of the tall ships that plied the route between San Francisco and the South Sea Islands.
The most unique feature of the Tonga Room is the swimming pool in the middle of the club and the house band that comes out in a boat to play, it even rains inside during intermission. Normally I’m one of the more fucked up people on the dance floor so it was kind of refreshing to see people twice my age that were also twice as wasted as I was. Seize the day, my brothers. There was this one older couple that kept dancing towards the edge of the pool, as if they were going to jump over the barrier and into the pool. I have to wonder how many people have actually taken that dive over the years.
Like I said, this was The Isotope Tiki Tour and the Tonga Room was only the first stop. The second stop was the Bamboo Hut on Broadway and going down California Street is like walking down a rollercoaster. Bonus points for all those that made the pilgrimage in high heals and made it out in one piece.
I know this green building at the intersection of Columbus and Pacific has a name, history, and identity all it’s own, but I’ll always know it as the building where Kirk chewed out a driver that almost ran over him and the crew of the Starship Enterprise in Star Trek IV.
It’s amazing the amount of useless fanboy trivia that my brain has held hostage and refuses to delete…
This is our second stop, The Bamboo hut on Broadway and these are the kinds of pictures that I tend to take after my fifth screwdriver.
Solid as a rock there, Mike. Solid as a rock…
And this is the kind of picture I take after my seventh screwdriver. Here’s the side of Grace Cathedral as we made our way to the third stop. With all the sex shops on Broadway it’s easy to just think of North Beach as a seedy part of town, but there really is some amazing architecture out here.
The bathroom at Hawaii West makes me want to listen to Duran Duran
And that was a wrap.
With my wallet bleeding dry and the vodka in my freezer calling my name, I grabbed a taxi and called it a night.
Thank you San Francisco, you were a great audience.
I hope we can do this again sometime.