Wed, 06 Aug 2003

Reliving the past at Raffles Hotel Long Bar

Tantri Yuliandini, The Jakarta Post, Singapore

Forget the glitzy high rises on the skyline, the Long Bar at Raffles Hotel Singapore is a return to the early 20th century, the days of British plantation owners, high teas, banana trees, pith helmets, and peanuts.

Transportation into the past is immediate. Rattan chairs and teakwood support-beams, windows with wooden shutters and mosaic flooring, all evoke the atmosphere of a Malayan plantation house of the 1920s.

Mechanically operated fans made from coconut leaves cool guests without spoiling the style of the bar. The ambience is warm, friendly and comfortingly cluttered.

But the most curious feature of the bar is the unmistakable crackle and crunch of discarded peanut shells under your feet as you enter.

But this is Singapore! You might exclaim, the land of the orderly and meticulous. Which what makes a floor covered with peanut shells all the more exciting, where else in Singapore can you litter?

"You have no idea how liberating this is!" a woman gleefully said as she knocked a small mound of peanut shells onto the floor.

And as if anticipating Singaporean's need to let off steam once in a while, the tables at the bar are well stocked with brimming bowlfuls of peanuts.

The bar provides a wide range of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, but its specialty is the famous Singapore Sling.

"For decades, visitors to Singapore have headed for Raffles Hotel to sample the world-famous Singapore Sling," the hotel boasted in its website,

The Sling was created at the hotel at the turn of the century by Hainanese bartender Ngiam Tong Boon. A smooth blend of gin, cherry brandy, Cointreau, DOM Benedictine and grenadine, with pineapple and lime juice, and a dash of Angostura Bitters, the Singapore Sling was originally meant to be a ladies' drink.

"Hence the attractive pink color," the hotel said. But don't be fooled the Sling is potent -- its seductive sweetness has a slightly bitter aftertaste -- and it can knock your socks off.

The Long Bar is as old as the hotel itself which was named after Singapore founder Sir Stamford Raffles. It was first established as a 10-room hotel in 1887 by four Armenian brothers; Martin, Tigran, Aviet, and Arshak Sarkies.

Over the years the hotel's elegant new-Renaissance architecture has been host to the likes of authors Joseph Conrad and Rudyard Kipling; actors Charlie Chaplin, Jean Harlow, Ava Gardner, and Elizabeth Taylor; and more recently Michael Jackson.

Somerset Maugham, author of Liza of Lambeth and Lady Frederick, visited Raffles Hotel in 1921, and returned in 1926 and 1959.

"Legend has it that he worked all morning under a frangipani tree in the Palm Court, turning bits of gossip and scandal overheard at dinner parties into his famous stories," the hotel said in its website.

In 1987 the Singapore government gave the hotel status as a national monument, and in March 1989 the hotel underwent a S$160 million restoration. Raffles Hotel reopened its doors in September 1991 looking much the same as it did during its heyday in 1915.

Today it has 103 suites, each with hardwood floors and furnishings, which reflect the style and ambience of the hotel's origins.

The Raffles Hotel has become a landmark and a part of Singapore's history. Legend has it that in 1902 the manager of the hotel, Charles McGowan Phillips, shot a tiger which had sought refuge under the billiard table. The tiger was popularly believed to be the last tiger to be bagged in Singapore.

The story of the Tiger who came to tea has been embellished over the years, the latest retelling is a 32-page illustrated children's book.