Raffles Hotel, Singapore
Early one morning on 13 August 1902, an escaped circus tiger bounded under the Raffles Hotel Billiard Room, which was built on stilts. Charles Phillips, principal of Raffles Institution and a member of Singapore’s rifle team, was urgently called to the hotel. Rushing over in his pyjamas, he saw the eyes of the tiger gleaming in the half-light under the building, took aim, and killed it. A python and a wild boar have also visited the hotel in the days before Singapore became an urban jungle but no stories tell of their demise.
Apart from the wildlife, Raffles is known for its Singapore Sling, created at the Long Bar between 1910-15 by the Hainanese–Chinese bartender, Ngiam Tong Boon. It has been popular ever since as a good antidote to tiger sightings. Sitting in rattan chairs under twirling fans in the hot, moist atmosphere of Singapore, any drink is welcome. In the early days, guests could sit on the verandah to catch the cooling sea breezes and see five miles of shipping from all over the world bobbing at anchor. The hotel still stands on Beach Road but so much land has been reclaimed that the beach is now out of sight. The following recipe was jotted on a bar chit by a visitor in 1936.
2 measures of gin
1 measure of cherry brandy
1 measure of fresh orange, lemon, lime and pineapple juice
Drop of Cointreau
Dash of Angostura Bitters
Garnish with a slice of pineapple and a cherry
Shake well with ice and serve in a tall glass. Don’t forget the umbrella.
Raffles Hotel was established by the Armenian Sarkies brothers and named after Singapore’s founder, Sir Stamford Raffles. They leased the 10-room colonial bungalow on Beach Road from an Arab trader, Syed Mohamed Alsagoff, on 1 December 1887. The glorious main building of Raffles Hotel was completed in 1899, designed by architect Regent Alfred John Bidwell of Swan and Maclaren. Over the years a verandah, wings, ballroom, and a bar and billiards room were added.
Raffles is known not only for tigers and slings but for its famous guests. Somerset Maugham visited in the 1920-30s and wrote every morning under a frangipani tree in the Palm Court. He noted that Raffles Hotel “stands for all the fables of the exotic East.”
Raffles Hotel has featured in many films, including the BBC’s Tenko, which recreated the experiences of British, Australian an Dutch women captured after the fall of Singapore (February 1942). The film Paradise Road tells the story of the same camp. The women were held in internment camps on Sumatra until 1945, when they were repatriated to Singapore. Raffles Hotel acted as the clearinghouse for news. A woman who had been in the same camp as my father’s first wife recognised him from her description, told him of her death a few months before and handed back her wedding ring, which he wore for the rest of his life.