The Tonga Room & Hurricane Bar from "The Bachelor"Feb 23rd, 2015 | By Lindsay | Category: TV Locations
This season of The Bachelor has been one for the record books! I don’t think there has ever been a prior season featuring so many crazy contestants – and for The Bachelor, that’s really saying something. Sure there are a few sane women in the bunch (Whitney, Carly and Becca), but for the most part each episode is like a parade of crazy – and I am loving every minute of it! The Grim Cheaper and I just visited a location from a past season of the show last week while up in San Francisco for my grandma’s 90th birthday. One of my besties Nat, who lives in SF, planned a spectacular Valentine’s Day evening for us, during which we stopped by the iconic Tonga Room & Hurricane Bar at The Fairmont San Francisco Hotel. And, let me tell you, I could NOT have been more excited!
Construction on The Fairmont began in 1902. In a bit of unfortunate timing, the hotel was completed, but had not yet opened, shortly before the 1906 earthquake. While the building was not harmed by the actual quake, the fires that followed wound up devastating the structure. Architect Julia Morgan, who co-designed William Randolph Hearst’s Ocean House in Santa Monica, was eventually brought in to rehabilitate it and The Fairmont was finally opened to the public in 1907. It soon became the city’s most popular upscale hotel. The property went through a succession of different owners during its early years and in 1929 was purchased by an engineer named George Smith, who installed a 75-foot indoor pool on the hotel’s Terrace level that he dubbed the “Fairmont Plunge.”
The hotel suffered a downturn during the Great Depression and was sold yet again, this time to Benjamin Swig. In the hopes of restoring The Fairmont’s popularity, Swig brought in interior decorator Dorothy Draper to redesign the place.
And it worked. The Fairmont once again became the toast of San Francisco society, as well as the go-to hotel for visiting celebs and dignitaries. Just a few of the stars who have stayed at The Fairmont over the years include Joan Crawford, Alfred Hitchcock, Orson Wells, William Randolph Hearst, Rudolph Valentino, Bette Davis, Anne Baxter, James Stewart, Kim Novak, Fred Astaire, James Brown, Ernest Hemingway, David Duchovny, Harrison Ford, Uma Thurman, Courteney Cox, Katie Holmes, and Mischa Barton. The Fairmont has also hosted such presidents as Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, John F. Kennedy and, just last week, Barack Obama. And it was in the hotel’s famed supper club, The Venetian Room, that Tony Bennett first sang his trademark song “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.”
In 1945, Swig hired MGM set director Mel Melvin to transform the Plunge into a nautical-themed Chinese restaurant that he named the S.S. Tonga. While popular, Benjamin decided to redesign the place once again in the 1950s due to the advent of the tiki bar craze. The new Polynesian-themed eatery was dubbed the “Tonga Room & Hurricane Bar.”
Swig stationed a barge, complete with a thatched roof, in the center of the pool and hired bands to play on it nightly.
He also installed a large dance floor that had been constructed out of the deck of the S.S. Forester, a ship that once travelled between San Francisco and the South Sea Islands.
To say that the Tonga Room is spectacular would be a gross understatement. The place is absolutely phenomenal and my photographs really don’t do it justice. It is easily one of San Francisco’s most unique spots and it is not surprising that producers chose to feature it in the Season 16 episode of The Bachelor that was filmed in SF. Oh, and did I mention that it rains there? So freaking cool!
The Fairmont popped up during Ben Flajnik’s season in the episode titled “San Francisco, California” and was shown several times throughout the episode.
Not only were the women put up at the hotel . . .
. . . but the incredibly dramatic rose ceremony - in which Shawntel Newton (from Brad Womack’s season) barged in and was then subsequently ousted (cue Courtney saying “Sayonara”) – took place on the patio of The Fairmont’s 6,000-square-foot Penthouse Suite. Just a few of the luminaries who have stayed in the suite include President John F. Kennedy, Prince Charles, Mick Jagger, Tony Bennett, Nat King Cole, and Marlene Dietrich. You can check out some photographs of the space here. The library room is uh-ma-zing!
The show’s group date took place in the Tonga Room. In the episode, Ben described the restaurant as an iconic and historic San Francisco landmark, so I was shocked that I had never heard of it before, especially considering that I grew up in SF. I immediately called my mom to ask how it was that my parents had never taken me there and she replied, “We never took you there? How is that possible?” I don’t know, mom! I don’t know! I have wanted to remedy the situation ever since and am so glad that I was recently able to do so!
The Bachelor returned to The Fairmont during its current season. In the fourth episode, titled “Camping,” Bachelor Chris Soules and contestant Jillian Anderson had an extremely awkward date on the patio of the Penthouse Suite, the same spot where Ben’s rose ceremony took place.
The Fairmont has been featured in countless productions over the years, so many that it would be impossible for me to chronicle them all here. As Jim Van Buskirk and Will Shank say in their book Celluloid San Francisco, “The Fairmont has starred in so many movies that, legend has it, the doorman is required to be a member of the Screen Actor’s Guild.” Love it! A few of its notable onscreen appearances include Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo. In the 1958 thriller, Madeleine Elster (Kim Novak) is shown briefly driving by the hotel.
Supposedly, the shots of San Francisco that appeared in the movie’s opening sequence were taken from the roof of The Fairmont, but I am unsure if that information is correct.
Hitchcock returned to the hotel to shoot a brief scene for 1976’s Family Plot, in which Blanche Taylor (Barbara Harris) leaves a cryptic message for George Lumley (Bruce Dern) with the doorman.
The Fairmont was used in establishing shots of the St. Gregory Hotel in the 1983 television series Hotel.
Interiors were shot on a set modeled after the inside of The Fairmont.
In the 1996 thriller The Rock, John Patrick Mason (Sean Connery) demands a suite at The Fairmont while helping the FBI with a case.
The FBI secures him the Penthouse Suite and it is on the patio that Mason gets his hair cut . . .
. . . and from which F.B.I. Director Womack (John Spencer) is thrown.
Though portions of the Penthouse interior were utilized in the filming (including the library, pictured below), I believe that most of the hotel room scenes were shot elsewhere.
And oddly enough, when Mason is shown exiting The Fairmont, he is actually standing in front of the Millennium Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles.
In the 1994 comedy Junior, an establishing shot of The Fairmont is shown as the location of the West Coast Pharmaceutical Convention.
But interiors were actually shot in the Gold Room at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel.
And when Dr. Alex Hesse (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and Dr. Larry Arbogast (Danny DeVito) are shown leaving the convention, they are actually standing at the Biltmore’s limo ramp .
Fellow stalker Owen, from the When Write Is Wrong blog, also informed me that The Fairmont was where Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) gave a speech at the National Parks Conference in the Season 6 episode of Parks and Recreation titled “Moving Up.” The hotel was only used in establishing shots, though. Interior filming took place elsewhere.
The Fairmont has also appeared in Jade, Hard to Hold, Shoot the Moon, Chu Chu and the Philly Flash, A Night Full of Rain, Mother, Towering Inferno, Petulia, Midnight Lace, Alexander’s Ragtime Band, Magnum Force, Kiss Them For Me, The Streets of San Francisco and The Amazing Race.
Until next time, Happy Stalking!
Stalk It: The Fairmont San Francisco is located at 950 Mason Street in Nob Hill. You can visit the Fairmont’s official website here. The Tonga Room & Hurricane Bar is located on the hotel’s Terrace Level. You can visit the restaurant’s official website here.