Can you visit Singapore without visiting the legendary iconic Raffles Hotel and Long Bar?
In short, no, not really.
Because, it’s not just the hotel’s stark-white splendid architecture that’s captivating, overflowing charm and signifying luxury, the Raffles Hotel epitomises Singapore’s colonial era but in a grand style.
A little background on the Raffles Hotel
If you haven’t heard of the Raffles Hotel then a little background may help.
Established in the 1830s as a private home, Raffles changed hands many times until established by the Armenian hoteliers, the Sarkies Brothers in 1887. The Sarkies expanded Raffles as a commercial enterprise and a first-class establishment attracting a profusion of dignified guests.
The Great Depression brought bankruptcy for the Sarkies brothers through accumulated debt in the millions, but the hotel survived and in 1933, was incorporated as Raffles Hotel Limited.
During a tumultuous time with imminent WWII, Raffles staff buried the hotel’s silverware – even the silver beef trolley. The Japanese occupation meant the hotel’s name also changed to Syonan Ryokan.
Post-war September 1945 saw displaced staff returning to the hotel, as did the silverware from its hiding place. Raffles was also used as a “temporary transit camp for prisoners of war” awaiting repatriation, which adds intrigue and importance to the hotel’s history. During the following decades, the hotel changed hands multiple times also undergoing expensive restorations, with the latest closure in 2017 for two years of major revamping.
The Long Bar
The grey drizzling Singapore sky coupled with coolish March weather (strange for Singapore) is perfect for a stopover at the Long Bar – any excuse.
The twenty-minute line-up with locals and foreigners patiently waiting to enter doesn’t deter the excitement. We’re entering a piece of history after all. Staff later advise that the twenty-plus minute wait is not a once-off but is business as usual, all day long, every day of the week – “never less and never quiet” – a lucrative enterprise.
Subdued filtered lighting through checkered timber windows bathes patrons sipping iced pink Slings while relaxing in comfortable wicker chairs around snug tables. Ceiling tear-dropped cane fans lazily sway in unison a gentle breeze, across the Long Bar. An impressive carved spiral stairwell, nineteenth-century floor tiles, and of course, the famous Long Bar propel you back through time to a gentrified era, until…
…while moving further into the bar, the crunching sound underfoot sharply breaks the atmosphere. Are the cleaners on strike?
Wandering around the bar, you’ll see the sign:
‘’Quite possibly the one place in Singapore where littering is actually encouraged. Never would we suggest you break the law. But at the Long Bar at Raffles, feel free to brush your peanut shells onto the floor.’’
This sound is an integral feature of the Long Bar.
As one of the only eighteen establishments in Singapore where it’s legal to litter, you won’t be fined or thrown in jail for scattering the Long Bar’s patterned floor with fresh peanut shells.
Feeling awkward shelling peanuts and just tossing the shells on the floor, the barman encourages us to do the same – “everyone in the Long Bar is throwing shells on the floor” – before he continues with his story…
…of how this tradition started.
When the Long Bar was surrounded by peanut plantations – not today’s skyscrapers – a British officer that was particularly bent on cleanliness did not allow even a peanut shell to drop on the bar’s floor. So, the Raffles Long Bar made it a tradition (to annoy the officer) that shells can be thrown on the floor and only cleaned up at the end of the day.
This is only one version of this tradition as I’ve since read several different tales of this tradition, but which one is correct?
The Singapore Sling
Having travelled to Singapore on several occasions, never have I indulged in the famous Singapore Sling, until today. Why did I wait all these years? Cost. The Original Singapore Sling is expensive at S$37 (US$28) per glass (2023).
During the 1915 era, women were not allowed to drink in a bar…
…let alone be seen drinking alcohol because of etiquette.
Bartender Ngiam Tong Boon at Raffles decided to create the gin-based soft pink-hued feminine cocktail for women. Resembling fruit juice, women could enjoy an alcoholic drink socially, which instantly became a hit.
The Raffles Hotel and Resorts’ 100th Singapore Sling Anniversary in 2015 and why the Sling was created.
Making a Sling
Short Raffles Hotel and Resorts demonstration on how to make the Singapore Sling. Why not make your own Singapore Sling?
Mega Sling Shaker
Moving around the crowded Long Bar, a massive green iron Raffles Sling Shaker proudly takes up one end of the bar, churning out cocktails at speed making eighteen glasses at one time. An ancient loud noise from hundreds of ice cubes rolling around in the shakers comes to life by manually cranking the shaker’s wheel.
At first glance, the shaker contraption looks a hundred years old, but on asking the friendly Indian barman, he laughs (at the silly tourist) and says the maker is only a few years old.
One of Australia’s “most respected bar professionals” Jason Crawley, custom-made the machine for Raffles.
Leaving the Long Bar
A couple of hours later and a couple of cocktails later in the iconic Raffles Long Bar eating my body weight in peanuts while making a mountain of peanut shells on the floor, it’s time to venture back out into the Singapore damp.
Of course, the Long Bar is touristy but the ambience in sumptuous surroundings is wonderful. The service is excellent, which makes returning to the Raffles Long Bar a must.
As one of the best cities in the world for transport, using Singapore’s MRT system is very easy and saves you a lot of money by avoiding private car fees or taxi charges. The added bonus is sharing transportation saves the environment due to fewer cars on Singapore’s heavy-trafficked roads.
The quickest and cheapest way (you need to save your dollars for the Slings) to get to the Raffles Place MRT station is to hop on either the North-South Line (NSL) or East-West Line (EWL) MRT in Singapore.
You can also stop off at the Esplanade or City Hall Subway stations, which are shorter walks to Raffles. On arriving at the Raffles Place MRT station, an easy walk of around 7 minutes sees you to Raffles.
Situated in a popular sightseeing area, Raffles is also within walking distance of several of Singapore’s landmarks including the Esplanade, the historic Fullerton Hotel, and the futuristic Marina Bay Sands.
Check back next week for a summary of free sights to visit while visiting Singapore.
Note: All photos by Nilla’s Photography unless otherwise mentioned. No part of this post was composed with the help of ChatGPT or AI.