Tag Archives: Raffles Hotel

Raffles, Singapore’s most famous Hotel

Raffles Hotel, named after the founding father of the city state, is one of Singapore’s most recognizable landmarks and arguably its most famous institution.

Raffles Hotel by night
Raffles Hotel by night

The original Raffles Hotel, opened in 1887 by the Armenian entrepreneurs Martin, Tigran, Aviet and Arshak Sarkies, was a simple colonial bungalow with ten rooms. It stood on an auspicious site, however, beside the sea, at the corner of Beach and Bras Basah Roads, where, in 1842, Maria Dyer (wife of the Missionary Samual Dyer) had established Singapore’s first girls’ school.

In 1899 the Sarkies’ modest bungalow was replaced by architect Regent Alfred John Bidwell’s grand colonial palace, which forms the core of today’s hotel complex. In time, a verandah, a ballroom, a bar and a billiards room were added, along with new wings and out-buildings. In 1989, Raffles closed for a $160 million dollar refurbishment. It re-opened on September 16, 1991, restored to the standard and style of its 1915 heyday. An extension, true to the building’s original colonial design, houses the Raffles Museum, the Jubilee Hall and the exclusive Raffles boutique shopping arcade, which includes Louis Vuitton, Tiffany’s and the local Bespoke Tailors CYC. Over the years, as the expanding city has reclaimed more and more land, the distance has grown between Raffles and the sea. Today, it stands 500 metres from the shore, in the heart of downtown Singapore.

But grand and commanding as they are, Raffles is more than the sum of its buildings and position. Since its beginnings as a ten-room bungalow beside the beach, it has seen heydays and survived doldrums, it has been the backdrop to some of Singapore’s bravest and darkest history and to some of its best stories. It was in Raffles’s Long Bar, according to one of those stories, that the last surviving Singapore Tiger was shot. The first Singapore Sling was mixed in the Long Bar, by bartender, Ngiam Tong Boon, sometime between 1910 and 1915, in the glittering heyday of colonial society and of Raffles (when, incidentally, Asian patrons were excluded from the hotel)

 

During the Great Depression, Raffles dropped into the doldrums and went into receivership. It was rescued in 1933, by the newly formed Raffles Hotel Ltd. When the conquering Japanese stormed Singapore on February, 15, 1942, they found Raffles’ guests dancing a last brave waltz. During the occupation the hotel was home to the Japanese army and was renamed Syonan Ryokan, Inn of the Light of the South. Raffles saw its darkest moments, when, after the liberation of Singapore, 300 Japanese soldiers detonated hand-grenades and ended their lives in its rooms. After the war, the hotel was used a transit camp where allied prisoners of war recovered from their ordeals.

 

Raffles, too, recovered from the ravages of the war. On 16 September, 1991 it celebrated its 120th anniversary with Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, who celebrated his 84th birthday on the same day.

Today, Raffles is managed by Raffles International Limited and is one of the world’s great hotels. It is a national monument and a Singapore tourist icon. A Singapore Sling in Raffles Long Bar is de rigeur for any visitor to the island state.

 

British Singapore

When Sir Stamford Raffles assigned the different groups of new Singapore settlers to their own areas, or cantons, with his town plan of 1822, he may have slowed racial integration and held back the development of a new, unique Singaporean nation for some 150 years, but he did, wittingly, or unwittingly, help to keep their various cultures intact, allowing them to put down strong roots, which in turn allowed them to flourish and to survive into the future.

The Padang
The Padang

Under the Raffles plan, the British settled the city and the hills to the East, the Chinese, to the South, the Indians to the North and the Muslims, including Malays and Middle Eastern peoples, to the North East.

Today, the British enclave is fragmented. All that remains of the nutmeg plantations which once covered the eastern hills is the name, Orchard Road. Most of the colonial mansions that went with the plantations have been swept away in redevelopment. However, there are many grand old dames of British administration dotted around the city like the Supreme Court, the Parliament buildings and the old Post Office, born again as the luxurious Fullerton Hotel. St Andrews Cathedral, survivor of countless Sunday Sermons and Anglo-protestant rites of passage still dominates the landscape around City Hall. The Padang, the Singapore sports ground, is still dotted with figures in white on summer weekends. It still echoes with the sound of leather on willow and with triumphant shouts of “Six!’.

Then there’s Raffles Hotel, still standing, an eternal monument to the lost colonial lifestyle, the past age of white linen suits, panama hats, spittoons, vapid ladies in floaty frocks, high teas, peanuts and gin slings. The suits (at least in white linen) and the vapid ladies have gone and along with them, most of the panama hats and floaty frocks while the spittoons survive only as decorations. The gin sling, though, is immortalized now, with a local twist, as the Singapore Sling and the high teas, the peanuts and the peanut shell-littered floor of the Long Bar are still going strong.

For a taste of British Singapore, take a stroll along North Bridge Road, through the grounds of St Andrews Cathedral, past City Hall and the Supreme Court, across the Padang, over to the Fullerton, then back to Raffles landing site. Don’t forget to stop at Raffles on the way back for a stroll in the garden and a Singapore Sling in the Long Bar.