Even in San Francisco, the Tonga Room and Hurricane Bar has a reputation for being surprising and quirky. It's in the basement of the very swish Fairmont Hotel - in which the UN charter was signed and, more importantly, where you can find Scarlet O'Hara's staircase from Gone with the Wind. (Although if you run down it repeatedly while attempting a bad southern accent, the staff will look at you strangely.)
The Tonga Room isn't signposted in the hotel, but take the lift down to the basement and you will find a place of such incredible kitch-ness that you'll understand why the hotel may try to downplay its existence. It's a tiki bar, so it's decorated in a 1950s vision of the tropics: pots of leafy plants, palm trees, plastic Easter Island statues, and waiters in Hawaiian shirts. Cocktails are served in hollowed out coconuts and pineapples festooned with umbrellas.
The room is arranged around a rectangular pool. The band plays in a thatched hut in the middle of the pool. The reason it's thatched? Because precisely every half an hour, lightning flashes, thunder rumbles, and it rains into the pool.
Go for the (admittedly expensive) cocktails and the experience: the food isn't great, but even on a weekday evening the punters arrive dressed in full 1950s costume and dance late into the night. And it rains every thirty minutes.
Address: The Fairmont, 950 Mason Street, San Francisco, California, USA 94108
Tel: (415) 772-5000
For a very Californian experience go to the Audium. A 60s style professor creates a soundscape in a room filled with 150 speakers. You troop through a darkened corridor and then sit in a circle in complete darkness. Then the professor plays and mixes strange sounds – supposed to be 3d and sound sculptures but there’s a lot of running water and what sounds like a band of monkeys playing Hammond organs. Bizarre.
1616 Bush Street; performaces are at 8.30 on Fri and Sat only (arrive by 8pm); tel: (415) 771 1616;
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