This week, Keith Oswin (Smith’s member-relations mainstay) took his Moleskine notebook and favourite fountain pen to Raffles Singapore – one of the world’s most renowned luxury hotels – where the doormen are liveried, the dress code is unimpeachable and cocktail-menu staple the Singapore Sling was invented. Former hideaway to Hitchcock, Hemingway and a constellation of titled celebutantes, there’s really no other place like this colonial icon…
Style Hotel heavyweight
Setting Buzzing Beach Road
Keith says ”See you at Raffles’ was a familiar cry among travellers in the days before it was possible travel from London to Sydney in less than 24 hours; with only enough time to squeeze in a coffee break as the plane refuels. In the early 20th century, only the well-heeled could afford to fly and the concept of ‘capsule luggage’ hadn’t yet been invented, so most travelled by sea with trunks larger than a London apartment.
Singapore – that great crossroads of the Far East – was where journeying friends were reunited to share their experiences (in lieu of Facebook or Twitter, catch-ups were a little more refined) and Raffles, the grand lady of the Far East, majestically waited to greet them. This hotel, which grew from a bungalow owned by the Sarkies brothers, may have been an icon of colonial times but it’s no ancient monument. In 1989 the hotel closed for a US$160 million renovation and, though the owners decided to revive its pre-war grandeur, the hotel has also been modernised with the high-tech wizardry you’d expect from its more recent, somewhat clinical, neighbours.
Raffles is all about style, from the moment you’re ushered into the hotel by the uniformed doormen (a position that passes from generation to generation) who are all clad in tailored Savile Row finery from Gieves & Hawkes. The Tiffin Room and the Long Bar are equally elegant (with a hint of stiff upper lip), and the latter is the birthplace of the famous Singapore Sling – so be sure to slug back a couple in honour of its inventor, bartender Ngiam Tong Boon.
Several of the suites at Raffles are named after famous guests (dubbed the ‘Personality Suites’); I was assigned to the Somerset Maugham Suite. It was he who famously exclaimed, ‘Raffles stands for all the fables of the exotic East!’, an apt observation, considering the many legends associated with the hotel. It’s believed that the last remaining tiger was shot at the hotel, allegedly while hiding under the billiard table. If you ask resident historian Leslie Danker (a fount of all knowledge on the subject and the only employee who knew the hotel prior to the restoration) about the tradition of throwing peanut shells on the floor of the Long Bar, he’ll tell you with a twinkle in his eye that it’s because the original bungalow was part of a peanut plantation – or maybe it’s because it’s the only place in squeaky-clean Singapore where you can throw anything on the floor without being fined…
Both Raffles and travelling have had a facelift since the likes of Hemingway propped up the Long Bar, but a fascinating literati-sprinkled history and an unequalled level of service make the hotel an irresistible stop off after a jaunt through Asia. Definitely a place to see once in your lifetime – we’ll see you there!’
Why this week? Book a stay now for December 2013 or January 2014 and you can take advantage of Raffles Singapore’s exclusive offer: three nights for the price of two. You’ll also get the Smith extra: a Singapore Sling each and some chocolates.
Copy compiled by Keith Oswin