Palm Springs’ Congo Room & Cellar at the Tropics Motor Hotel

The Ken Kimes chain of Tropics Motor Hotels included an outpost in Palm Springs that opened circa 1964.  Scattered amidst the lushly landscaped property were tikis of various sizes that punctuated the tropical theme.

Kimes leased the hotel’s food and beverage concession to Sambo’s, who would sometimes include a higher end restaurant and cocktail lounge in their properties.  Palm Springs was lucky enough to be one of them.

The Congo Room Steakhouse with its view towards the pool was smartly decorated in a Witco Regency style apropos to the desert lifestyle.

Congo Room

In addition, deep below the Congo Room lay a themed cocktail lounge called The Cellar that was reached via a narrow staircase in the foyer above.

With its slumpstone walls and textured cave-like ceiling, The Cellar was a cozy escape from the world’s troubles above.

A fine selection of wines from the rack or tapped from the barrel awaited the connoisseur.

Unfortunately, The Cellar suffered from porous walls and eventually filled with water.  It was entombed in concrete in the 1980s.  The Congo Room itself was soon replaced by The Reef bar, which was more in keeping with the Tropics theme.  Today, Sambo’s and The Reef are gone and the main dining room is empty.

A bit of urban archaeology uncovered this tasty relic.

To purchase your own prints of these vintage photographs visit the website of Sambo’s photographer Tim Putz.

About Peter Moruzzi

Author and historian Peter Moruzzi is passionate about the middle decades of the 20th century: its nightlife, classic dining, and architecture. Born in Concord, Massachusetts and raised in Hawaii, Moruzzi graduated from the University of California at Berkeley and later attended the American Film Institute in Los Angeles. In 1999, he founded the Palm Springs Modern Committee (PS ModCom) an architectural preservation group. He is the author of "Havana Before Castro: When Cuba Was a Tropical Playground," "Palm Springs Holiday: A Vintage Tour From Palm Springs to the Salton Sea," "Classic Dining:Discovering America's Finest Mid-Century Restaurants," "Palm Springs Paradise: Vintage Photographs from America's Desert Playground," and "Greetings from Los Angeles." His latest pictorial history, "Greetings from Las Vegas" will be available in September, 2019.
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3 Responses to Palm Springs’ Congo Room & Cellar at the Tropics Motor Hotel

  1. Pingback: Travel Notes « Observations Along the Road

  2. DeSoto says:

    The appearance of the The Cellar, especially its wavy, textured ceiling, inspires thoughts of sets that appeared in the original Star Trek TV series. Which is not inappropriate, since they occurred about the same time.

    I note that the published photos of the Congo Room, which appear to come from a brochure, look considerably more lurid than the original color transparency above them. The purple and red vinyl upholstery looks blindingly garish in the brochure – not that this is a bad thing, of course.


  3. Carlos King says:

    Wonderful pictures and finds Peter. Thats the main reason I love living in PS it is full of interesting rich history. I love the color scheme of the Congo Room, the rich creams, purples and reds are so chic.


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