Through the Ages – The Raffles Hotel, Singapore
In the beginning
Raffles Hotel is one of the few great remaining hotels in Asia, indeed the world. It is known the world over and is synonymous with class and elegance and visitors to the hotel really feel as if they are stepping back in time when they walk through the doors.
Established in 1887 by the Armenian Sarkie brothers, this grand old dame of hotels started life as a just a few rooms in a simple hotel. The brothers had impeccable taste however and the hotel became well known amongst the travelling set.
The building was added on to when the British started to come to visit Singapore in droves. Burnt out by travel, humidity, dirt and heat of the Far East, travelers required an elegant and civilized place to stay; somewhere that had the trappings of home but that retained some of its country’s charm. And Raffles Hotel was it.
Sir Stamford Raffles would undoubtedly be honoured to have had such a building named after him. As the ‘founding father’ of Singapore as we know it today, Sir Stamford had no such luxury in his own life during his travels.
After leading an adventurous but rather sad life, losing all four of his children from his second marriage (three to probable malaria) as well as his second wife, Sir Stamford himself died a day before his 45th birthday.
He had a flower named after him but that itself is a parasitic plant that smells of putrid meat!
Much better to have a luxurious hotel as your namesake in my opinion!
Celebrities and colonial charm
Popularized in the 1920’s and onwards, travelling writers such as Noel Coward, Somerset Maugham and Rudyard Kipling looked on the hotel as a kind of oasis, a civilized stopover in an unfamiliar and Asian world.
The hotel is certainly beautiful and its white walls and columns, marble staircases and ornate gilt chandeliers are a monument to the colonial era. It was designated as a National Monument in 1987 and the refurbishment in 1991 saw two new annexes added to the hotel.
Raffles attracts guests who are able to afford to stay in the luxurious suites and guestrooms such as Royals and Government Officials as well as film stars. But it also brings in thousands of daily visitors who just want to get a taste of life gone by and a glimpse at the place where Rudyard Kipling sampled the famous drink, the Singapore Sling.
With over 40 shops occupying a two storey arcade there is something for everyone to look at. There are watches and clothes, a purveyor of fine foods and a bakery ensconced in the walls of the hotel and many visitors spend hours just wandering along the shady lanes of the hotel window-shopping.
The staircases are marble and there are palm trees, green shrubs and tropical gardens that shade visitors as they wander around. There are courtyards housing cafes and bars and everywhere you look you feel as if you have stepped back in time.
It is easy to imagine the pretty young lads and lasses of the 1920’s and 30’s as they flapped their way round the dance floor in all their finery.
You can almost see Noel Coward in his smoking jacket tinkling the ivories of the piano while he sings songs about mad dogs and Englishmen and the very proper way that the British behave.
Intriguing doorways lead to ornate balconies where chandeliers hang from the ceiling and at the entrance to the actual hotel itself guests are greeted by a doorman who wears a white suit and a feathered turban reminiscent of the English days of the Raj.
Step in Time
There is such history in this place. Hundreds of visitors head here to get a taste of the Singapore Sling. First prepared in 1915 in the original Raffles Hotel, the dangerously fruity drink was invented by barman Ngiam Tong Boon.
The popularity of the drink spread throughout the world and although tourists may well have tasted the drink in their own country they still love to sit and sip the drink that was invented in this very place. Made from gin, pineapple juice, lemon juice, Benedictine, Cointreau and Cherry Brandy, the Singapore Sling is best enjoyed in the Long Bar of the hotel.
The Long Bar is a two-storey bar designed in the style of the old Malaysian plantations of the 1920’s. It has comfy leather seats and it is dark and cosy inside. There are pictures on the wall of past guests including actors such as Elizabeth Taylor and there are many drawings of flapper girls and young men in their dinner suits and top hats from the 1920’s.
Suspended from the ceiling are rows of wicker fans. Individual wicker fans are attached to motorized contraptions that turn a pulley and cause the fans to well, fan! It’s an ingenious early pre- air conditioning method that wafts a cool breeze over you as you sip your drink.
In the bar there are bowls of monkey nuts and it is slightly ironic that guests are allowed to drop the shells right on the floor when littering is actually an offence in Singapore. Sparrows fly in from the balcony outside and sit on the floor and eat the shells as the guests tuck into delicious satay at their highly polished wooden tables.
Another interesting room at the hotel is the Bar and Billiard Room. In 1902 a tiger was spotted hiding under one of the billiard tables and was shot and killed. Talk about a thrilling game of snooker!
Dining in the Tiffin Room is one of the oldest traditions of Raffles. It was opened by Tigran Sarkies in the early 1890’s as a place where guests could pop in and enjoy a light meal in the heart of the business district. With a light airy feel and white tablecloths, sparkling cutlery and glasses, the Tiffin Room is a wonderful place for a traditional British high tea.
The hotel has many little nooks and crannies to explore and there are so many things to look at. But it is really the sense of history that makes the place feel so special.
There is a sense of real luxury at the hotel and the ornate gildings and starched uniforms of the staff help you to imagine what it must have been like to be a visitor in the 1920’s when the darlings of the British social set would meet up and dance the night away under the stars of an Asian sky.
Join us soon for another Through the Ages