Literary Greats & an Iconic Pink Cocktail
Easily the most famous hotel in Singapore, no other establishment epitomises the island’s colonial history better than Raffles Hotel Singapore. The original 10-room bungalow over-looking the beach and the South China Sea was built by the Armenian brothers Martin, Tigran, Aviek, and Arshak Sarkies and named after Singapore’s founder Sir Stamford Raffles. The doors opened for the first time on 1st December 1887 and, before long, Raffles Hotel Singapore had become the most famous hotel in Far East, regarded by the wealthy and curious and as a sophisticated gateway to the exotic East.
One of the first guests was Joseph Conrad, author of ‘Heart of Darkness’. Rudyard Kipling followed in 1889, using his time there to write his children’s classic ‘The Jungle Book’ and as inspiration for his story, ‘Feed at Raffles’. These two paved the way for a roll call of literary greats. Playwright Noel Coward was a return visitor for almost 40 years (he finished ‘Private Lives’ in Singapore), while Somerset Maugham, Ernest Hemingway, Aldous Huxley, and the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda were all regulars. The attraction was neatly summed up by Somerset Maugham who stated, “Raffles Hotel stands for all the fables of the exotic East.”
Today, the Writers Bar tucked into the grand lobby acknowledges this history, but at the time guests gathered in The Long Bar, birthplace of The Singapore Sling.
The Singapore Sling
Widely regarded as the national drink of Singapore, the Singapore Sling was first created in 1915 by bartender Ngiam Tong Boon. Primarily a gin-based cocktail, it also contains pineapple juice as the main ingredient, along with grenadine, lime juice and Dom Benedictine. Ngiam also added cherry brandy and Cointreau, a mix that turned his cocktail pink – and ensured its instant success.
Colonial Singapore at the turn of the century disapproved of women drinking alcohol in public so, for the sake of public modesty, fruit juices and teas were the preferred beverages of the female clientele. Ngiam, spotting a niche in the market, decided to create a cocktail that looked like a fruit juice but was actually infused with gin and liqueurs. The pretty pink hue gave it a feminine flair and, together with the use of clear alcohol, led people to think that it was a socially acceptable punch for the ladies. The Singapore Sling was born!
100 years later, to mark the cocktail’s centenary, Raffles teamed up with London gin makers Sipsmith to create a bespoke gin blend, Raffles 1915 Gin, containing of a mix of botanicals found in Asia such as jasmine flowers, fresh pomelo peel, lemongrass, Kaffir lime leaf, nutmeg, and cardamom distilled alongside some of the classic gin botanicals found in the award-winning Sipsmith London Dry Gin.
When the Great Depression hit at the end of the 1920s, the hotel endured extreme financial hardships and the last surviving Sarkies brother eventually had to file for bankruptcy. New ownership led to a brief recovery, but the outbreak of the Second World War spelled more trouble. As the Japanese Imperial Army descended upon the city, the hotel’s staff desperately set about saving as many of its assets as they could protect - they even buried the business’s supply of silver within its famous Palm Court. Legend has it that one last waltz was held to distract the Japanese soldiers while the silver was hidden in their midst.
Post war, and back in private ownership, Raffles Hotel soon resumed its place as Singapore’s most glamorous hotel. International celebrities including Charlie Chaplin, Elizabeth Taylor, and Ava Gardner came and sprinkled their star dust and, in 1967, Guy Green filmed much of ‘Pretty Polly’ inside the building. In the 1980s, the government of Singapore declared the Raffles Hotel a National Monument in recognition of its historic significance.
A major restoration in 2019 breathed new life into the hotel, enhancing its regal elegance and old-world appeal. New bars, restaurants, courtyards, and social areas were opened, while lush tropical gardens were woven through the estate to provide a soothing contrast to the urban hustle and bustle. Today, along with the chink of cocktail glasses, it is not uncommon to hear birdsong and the rustle of palm leaves in the breeze.
Come and experience The Raffles Hotel for yourself on our Captivating Holiday to Singapore & Gaya Island Resort