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Raffles: A Splendid Love Affair of Literature, Art and Liquour

Even though Raffles rolled out the red carpet to many, one visitor came in 1902, unwelcomed, creating absolute mayhem in the hotel.

Manu Remakant |

Updated:June 2, 2017, 8:11 PM IST
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Raffles: A Splendid Love Affair of Literature, Art and Liquour
A view of Raffles Hotel in Singapore. (Photo: Getty Images)

News18 Tippling Point Want to sip a drink soaking in the vibes of writers like Somerset Maugham and Rudyard Kipling? Want to touch the 19th century colonial times imbibing your favourite potion in a hotel that was once frequented by British officers belting out songs praising a far off island, their home? Want to be at the birthplace of that legendary infusion, Singapore Sling, to know what prompted them to create this drink in your hand, the pink poem in this cocktail glass?

Welcome to Raffles hotel, Singapore.

Built (by Armenian hoteliers the Sarkies brothers), in 1887, as a beach house after the name of Sir Stamford Raffles who found modern Singapore, the hotel had a humble beginning. With just ten rooms, it showed no signs of growing into one of the world’s beloved Grande hotels, drawing writers, politicians, actors, scientists, sportspersons, royalty, from all over the world.

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Right from the early days, the bar at Raffles, the Long Bar (and later, the Writer’s bar) was a sweet spot for writers and artists. He was still struggling hard to meet his muse, when Rudyard Kipling first visited Raffles. Somerset Maugham sipped his drink, quietly listening to smatterings of conversation from adjacent tables - all grist for his creative mill. For Maugham, Raffles was a symbol of “all the fables of the exotic east.”

If walls could tell stories (perhaps after a shot of Singapore Sling from the bar, you might suddenly grow an ear to pick whisperings off the plastering), you might wish, in vain. Pablo Neruda, Herman Hesse, Ernest Hemingway, John Kennedy, Charlie Chaplin: the works and photographs kept behind the glass in the hotel are testimony to an ambience that boosted creativity.

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Even though Raffles rolled out the red carpet to many, one visitor came in 1902, unwelcomed, creating absolute mayhem in the hotel.

It was a Singaporean tiger, the last of its species in the country, which escaped from a village show. Panicked, the beast found shelter under the billiards table. But he was soon found and shot dead, adding yet another legend to the annals of Raffles.

If the tiger came in unasked, the legendary cocktail Singapore Sling was created in Raffles with much meditation and pragmatic thinking.

Ngiam Tong Boon, bartender of Raffles at the beginning of the 20th century, desperately wanted to create a fairy tale of a drink, for his lady customers (women could not drink a hard drink publicly back then). Experimenting with various drinks, he soon hit the sweet spot. The Sling became an instant hit. But like every other legend, the original recipe was lost after the death of Tong Boon. Now even in the Long Bar, where the drink was once born, you can only have a version of the original Singapore Sling. Many experts believe, that gin, cherry brandy and Benedectine are the main ingredients of the drink.

Rest is imagination.

So the next time you visit Singapore, don’t forget to visit Raffles (renovation work going on now, but will be finished by the end of the year), especially its Long Bar and Writer’s Bar.

How many great hotels could you casually cast away the peanut shells onto the floor, as is the long-standing custom at the bar at Raffles, while sipping your favourite drink?

History hasn’t found a cozier place to retire into.

(Manu Remakant is a freelance writer who also runs a video blog - A Cup of Kavitha - introducing world poetry to Malayalees. Views expressed here are personal)

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| Edited by: Swati Sharma
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