131 years ago, this beautiful façade opened in the heart of Singapore and has been an iconic landmark ever since. Singapore’s famed Raffles Hotel reopened in August last year after a two-year restoration break.
It’s clear a visit to this colonial-styled hotel is going to be special, especially when you are whisked in by a car. When the car pulls into the circular driveway, the crunch of the gravel gives the place an air of Downtown Abbey, but the hotel’s signature Sikh doormen in their white turbans and ornate uniforms soon remind you that you are in ex-colonial territory.
A big part of the hotel’s charm its storied history, starting from the Sarkies Brothers who built the hotel in the late 19th century. Born in Iran but ethnically Armenians, the three brothers: Martin, Tigran, and Aviet were known for founding a chain of luxury hotels through Southeast Asia.
Since the Raffles’ opening in 1887, it has played hosts to an “A-list” of kings and queens, politicians, writers, and not a few Hollywood stars. The novelist Somerset Maugham used to spend his mornings under a frangipani tree in the hotel’s Palm Court to be inspired by the conversations taking place around him. The Nobel Prize-winning Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda, who was the first Chilean Consul General to Singapore, was also the first to romanticize the idea of having gin and tonic on the verandah of the Raffles Suite. Other luminaries who walked through its doors include Joseph Conrad, Rudyard Kipling, Noel Coward, Elizabeth Taylor, Ava Gardner and King Edward VIII. They would have been ushered into famous Long Bar, the birthplace of the signature Singapore Sling (first concocted in 1915), or the Writer’s Bar, a small but sophisticated place off the lobby, or the Tiffin Room, which has served North Indian cuisine in tiffin containers since 1892. For Pico Iyer, who had a stint as writer-in-residence at the Raffles, the “ultimate moment is the early evening, maybe six o’clock, (when) you sit out on the verandah drinking a cup of tea of something stronger and you have a book there or a diary or a postcard, the wind is coming in and off the sea taking the heat off the day.” I’m drooling for a revisit to this “Gem of the East.”