Why Is Raffles Hotel So Famous?

Learn about Raffles Singapore, one of Southeast Asia’s most prestigious hotels since the 1880s.

No other building more perfectly encapsulates the colonial heritage of the island than Raffles Hotel Singapore, which is undoubtedly the most well-known hotel in Singapore.

The hotel, which bears Sir Stamford Raffles‘ name, was constructed by the Sarkies Brothers, who were also in charge of other opulent inns in the area during the colonial era.

The Raffles Hotel Singapore opened its doors in 1887, but over the years, its layout has changed as new hotel wings, suites, and other amenities have been added.

A Hotel that Carries a Past

Raffles Singapore’s illustrious history began when Dr. Charles Emerson rented a lovely beach villa in 1878. Emerson, an astute hotelier, turned the charming mansion into a resort. His hopes were dashed, however, and he passed away five years later. Then the hotel consequently shut down soon after.

The small hotel wouldn’t come to life again until the legendary Sarkies Brothers arrived. The Sarkies, owners of the enormously popular Eastern & Oriental hotel in Penang, have long wished to establish an opulent hotel in Singapore.

As a result, the brothers decided to open their new business at the former Emerson Hotel in September 1887. The Sarkies reopened the structure as the “Raffles Hotel” in honour of Sir Stamford Raffles, the founding father of Singapore, following a thorough makeover.

The popularity of the Raffles Hotel increased quickly. The Sarkies attempted to accommodate the demand for additional accommodation during the first ten years of operation by constructing three new buildings on top of the already existing ones.

In just a few years, it went from 10 to 75 rooms offered. Within a short time, the Raffles Hotels had a veranda, a ballroom, and a pool room. The Sarkies also provided the best modern conveniences available at the time, such as electric-powered lighting and ceiling fans, for each guestroom.

By the late 1890s, demand from tourists to stay at the Raffles Hotel had increased to the point where the brothers saw they needed to add to the original structure once more. In 1899, they commissioned the skilled architect, Regent Alfred John Bidwell, to renovate the area.

What Bidwell accomplished was a true masterpiece. Following the development, the hotel’s stunning new neo-Renaissance-style architecture was unveiled to great applause. The Raffles Hotel had become one of Southeast Asia’s premier travel destinations by the turn of the century.

As the Raffles Hotel gained prominence, many well-known figures started to stay there frequently. Joseph Conrad, who would later pen the book Heart of Darkness, was one of its first visitors. The Jungle Book’s author, Rudyard Kipling, moved into the hotel shortly after that.

The hotel’s exceptional service, luxurious suites, and proximity to the beach attracted other affluent guests who quickly followed in their footsteps. Kipling would use his time at the Raffles Hotel as the inspiration for his story, “Feed at Raffles.”

Some people, like W. Somerset Maugham, started returning to the hotel frequently. According to rumors, Maugham’s interesting stories were inspired by numerous conversations he allegedly observed while staying at the Raffles Hotel.

The Beginning of The Catastrophe

However, storm clouds were gathering over the Raffles Hotel. The hotel faced severe financial difficulties at the beginning of the 1930s when the Great Depression began. As a result of the business leaving him in debt for many millions of dollars, the last surviving Sarkies brother eventually had to declare bankruptcy.

Up until the start of the Second World War, the Raffles Hotel made considerable progress toward recovery under new management. With the Japanese invasion and subsequent control of Singapore, trouble returned.

The hotel staff frantically tried to protect as many of its assets as they could as the Japanese Imperial Army encircled the city. They even hid the company’s silver supply inside its renowned Palm Court. According to legend, the Raffles Hotel hosted one final waltz to divert the Japanese forces while the silver was concealed among them.

The Raffles Hotel During the War

The Imperial Japanese Army had targeted the area for its strategic access to the Indian Ocean and the lands beyond, and the confrontation between Japanese and Allied forces occurred during the Malayan Campaign of World War II at the Battle of Singapore.

The Japanese began their initial assault on northern Malaya on December 7, 1941, the same day that Pearl Harbor was attacked, and went on to drive the Allies out of the area in just two months.

About 85,000 Allied forces were defending Singapore from the Japanese by February 1942. Despite having fewer soldiers, the Japanese used smart airpower and ground strategies to wear down their opponents. As Allied casualties increased, massive buildings like The Fullerton Building had to act as temporary field hospitals.

During the second week of February, the Allies’ situation worsened. Lieutenant-General Arthur Percival decided to hand over the entire city’s garrison since he could see no sign of friendly assistance. At the Singapore Club, a tenant of the close-by Fullerton Building, he spent some time talking with Governor Sir Shenton Thomas (now operating as another member of Historic Hotels Worldwide known as The Fullerton Hotel).

The Allies finally submitted to the Japanese assault on February 15, 1942. There is a persistent legend about how several Japanese soldiers came to the hotel’s guests despondently dancing to one last song.

Those activities, however, were much more than just a way to cope with the defeat—they also served as a clever ploy. The British expats at the time sang a spectacular version of “There Will Always Be an England” in the hotel. The crew was able to effectively hide the hotel’s large amount of silver from the invading Japanese forces thanks to the dancing party.

Throughout the war, the hotel was run as the “Syonan Ryokan” by the Japanese occupation forces. After Japan’s unconditional surrender to the Allied Powers on September 2, 1945, Singapore was only able to be returned to its original status after being liberated by the United Kingdom. As part of the British “Operation Tinderace” to retake Singapore, the Navy proudly entered the city’s main harbour under Admiral Louis Mountbatten’s command.

To mark the occasion, a seaman by the name of Stanley Redington specifically hoisted the Union Jack over the structure. Following that, the hotel briefly acted as a transit point for the many freshly liberated Allied POWs held in neighbouring Malaya before fully reverting to its previous name, the Raffles Hotel.

The Rebirth of The Raffles Hotel

Thankfully, after the war, the Raffles Hotel started to prosper once more. The structure rapidly reclaimed its position as Singapore’s premier luxury hotel after returning to private hands. Charlie Chaplin, Elizabeth Taylor, and Ava Gardner are just a few of the famous stars who visited the Raffles Hotel again.

Its splendour rose to new heights in 1967 when Guy Green shot a large portion of Pretty Polly there. The Raffles Hotel was designated a National Monument by the Singaporean government in the 1980s due to its historical significance.

The Raffles Hotel is now a beloved member of AccorHotels and is known as Raffles Singapore. The Raffles Hotel Singapore is one of the most prestigious hotels in the entire world and is currently a member of Historic Hotels Worldwide.

What Makes The Raffles Hotel Unique?

The Experience

As soon as you arrive, the Raffles Hotel Singapore experience begins. One of the recognisable doormen from Raffles Singapore will welcome you in typical Raffles fashion with a wide smile and his signature white Gieves and Hawkes attire.

Throughout a 2.5-year, multi-million dollar endeavour, Raffles was restored to its former splendour and tastefully enlarged in the 1990s. With a few modifications, historically-minded renovators faithfully brought the hotel back to its former grandeur and splendour of 1915, using that year as a standard.

The Raffles Hotel is a stunning example of one of the few remaining hotels from the 19th century. When you enter, you will be greeted by a spacious lobby made of white marble with cathedral ceilings supported by Corinthian columns. Royalty, famous people, and literary greats have all graced its illustrious halls.

These are the extensive details that make Raffles Hotel Singapore so special:

  • The hotel’s grandfather clock, which is located in the spacious foyer, is thought to be its oldest piece of furniture. Every night at eight o’clock, the piano player in the foyer plays “I’ll See You Again,” an old Noel Coward song.
  • This Grand Dame is distinguished by its unusual architecture, and expansive grounds with lush gardens, courtyards, fountains, and breezy verandas.
  • The famed Raffles Butlers live in Singapore’s Raffles Hotel and provide round-the-clock, wonderful, unobtrusive service that is frequently compared to a “soft wind.”
  • The rooftop pool and bar are hidden from the surrounding busy city in a beautiful tropical paradise.
  • Leslie Danker, who has worked at the hotel for more than 46 years and is the author of Memoirs of a Raffles Original, is the hotel’s resident historian.
  • A tiger was shot under the Bar & Billiard Room, then an elevated structure, in August 1902 after escaping from a local circus.
  • Up until the hotel’s second restoration, the silver beef truck from Raffles Grill that was buried in the garden during World War II and later discovered was still in use in the eatery.
  • Over a century ago, the cast iron fountain at the Palm Garden was transported from Glasgow to Singapore.
  • Original 19th-century pictures of Singapore and South East Asia are in the hotel’s collection.
  • Outside the hotel’s shining white façade, The Travellers’ Palms can be heard rustling in the wind.

The Raffles Hotel Singapore Sling

Even though the Singapore Sling’s origins are still up for debate, it was allegedly created in 1915 at the hotel’s Long Bar by bartender Ngiam Tong Boon. Because it was uncommon for women to use alcohol in public in the past, he made it appear to be a typical fruit punch. The beverage is still the top seller among guests today, both men and women.

To visit Singapore and not taste a Singapore Sling is nearly sinful. You should visit the original Raffles Hotel if you can afford it. You will be taken to a world of imperial luxury where you can spend the evening with guests while they sip cocktails long into the night. Don’t forget to check off drinking a Singapore Sling at the Raffles Hotel.

How Much Is a Singapore Sling at Raffles Hotel?

At the Raffles Hotel, a Singapore sling costs $37 Singapore dollars, which is roughly £22 or $26USD. While it may break your travel budget, you are paying for the Raffles Hotel experience.

You can travel back in time at The Long Bar because it has maintained its historical integrity. And where else except Raffles can you enjoy a traditional Singapore Sling?

Raffles Hotel Long Bar’s Interesting Facts

Due to its strong commitment to cleanliness, Singapore is well known for its anti-littering legislation. For instance, you will immediately be fined $1,000 if you spit out your chewing gum on the ground.

However, leaving trash in their Long Bar at the Raffles Hotel is welcomed! It’s still customary to dump peanut shells on the ground like Ngiam Tong Boon is renowned for doing.

As soon as you enter the Raffles Long bar, thousands of crushed peanut shells will be on the floor, and the workers will come through to sweep them up. On your tables will be a free bag of peanuts, so just start munching and discard the shells!

Is There a Dress Code for Raffles Singapore?

Casual Chic. Gentlemen are encouraged to wear collared shirts and trousers with appropriate footwear, and dress shorts will be allowed during lunch. Ladies may be dressed in dresses, skirts, or trousers with appropriate footwear.

Need something a little more budget-friendly? Then check out The 7 Best Rooftop Bars For Under $50 In Singapore.

Why Is Raffles Hotel So Famous?
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Annie Goh

Annie Goh was born and raised in Singapore, and grew up on a steady diet of hawker food, fine dining, and everything in between thanks to her parent's passion for food and adventure. After spending the early part of her career travelling the world, Annie how now come home to share her love of Singapore with the world.

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