The Grand Hotels of Southeast Asia, as we like to call them, are bound together in more ways than one. In this three-part series we’ll take an in depth look at the Raffles, The Strand, and Eastern & Oriental Hotel – sister hotels established by the luxury hotel owners, the Sarkies brothers. Another thing they have in common is Rudyard Kipling – a patron of each of the illustrious hotels. E&O was the first to be established in 1884, followed by Singapore’s own Raffles in 1887, and The Strand in 1901.
Raffles Hotel Singapore
As the top rated five-star and country’s oldest hotel, Raffles Hotel Singapore is a world renowned Singaporean institution. With a legacy spanning over 120 years we are sure that if the alabaster walls could speak they would be brimming with stories.
In an attempt to capture the essence of Singapore’s grande dame hotel we contacted the Raffles’ Historian, Leslie Danker. The photos and stories he shared with us were tantamount to discovering a treasure trove. And because it’s auspicious to share one’s good fortune, we’re sharing those stories with you.
|1887 Hotel opens
1888 Rudyard Kipling dines at the Raffles on his trip around the world
1892 The Tiffin Room opens
1899 Raffles’ Main Building opens and along with it, Singapore’s first electric lights
1915 The Singapore Sling is born
1921 Somerset Maugham pays the grand dame his first visit
1930 Noel Coward stays at the Raffles
1945 The hotel becomes a temporary transit camp for war prisoners
1987 Hotel is declared a national monument
1991 After a full restoration that took two years to complete, the Raffles is reopened
Stars of the silver screen graced the halls of this grand hotel. Elizabeth Taylor was a guest at the Raffles in the mid-1950s, when guestbooks were still hardbound journals. While Taylor definitely left her mark on the Raffles, the hotel also left an impression on Taylor in the form of a dress designed for her by the Raffles’ resident dressmaker, Doris Geddes.
Taylor’s good friend, the King of Pop, Michael Jackson followed suit in staying at the Raffles. MJ celebrated his 35th birthday in Singapore while on his Dangerous World Tour.
One of the most recognised leading ladies from Hollywood’s Golden Age, Ava Gardner also vacationed at the Raffles at the end of the 50s. The Raffles named a cocktail after Gardner’s film The Barefoot Contessa, and while the contessa is long gone, her spirit lives on at the hotel’s famous Long Bar.
Danker draws our attention to guests from further back in history, before Singapore had its Kallang Airport and journeyers travelled by cruise ship (P&O cruise liners took a staggering 2-weeks to get from London to Singapore).
Part of the Literary Ambulance Driver group of volunteers, Somerset Maugham began travelling Asia towards the end of the Great War. Maugham first checked into the Raffles in the 1921, not too long after the invention of the Singapore Sling. His title of Grand Old Man of Letters is dual-purpose as it fittingly refers to his habit of writing thank-you letters to hotels.
Raffles Hotel Singapore is a historical tapestry of sorts. From the names of the signature cocktails to those of the Personality Suites, the memorable stories of guests are tightly woven into the fabric of the hotel. Notable residents include Joseph Conrad, John Wayne, and Pablo Neruda, the latter of whom held the position of Consul of Chile in Singapore in 1931.
In light of SG50, Mr. Danker is giving Raffles history tours to selected guests. Request to be a part of the tour or discover the hotel’s legacy for yourself with a visit to the iconic hotel, located between Bras Basah and the Promenade. You may even bump into Mr. Danker on his daily stroll through the hotel’s courtyards!
For a contrast, below are photos of the Raffles today, thought the contrast may not be so large given that hotel has preserved hotel’s original colonial-style design.
The next time you enjoy afternoon tea at the Raffles, remember that your surroundings served as inspiration to some of the 20th century’s great writers.