Travel Ephemera #17: Raffles, Singapore

Turning out the contents of an old box in the attic, I came across some travel ephemera, which transported me several decades back in time and several thousand miles’ distance in space.

It was a place mat and a fading receipt from Raffles Hotel in Singapore; the Long Bar at Raffles Hotel, to be more precise.

Raffles Hotel has long stood as an icon of colonialism, and the height of decadency has always been to enjoy a Singapore Gin Sling in the shady comfort of the hotel’s Long Bar, following in the footsteps of such notable guests as Charlie Chaplin, Elizabeth Taylor, Somerset Maugham and Rudyard Kipling.  I was fortunate enough to visit the Long Bar in its original setting in the hotel’s lobby, before a major makeover of the hotel relocated it to a neighbouring shopping arcade.

Legend has it that the cocktail was the invention of Raffles’ barman Ngiam Tong Boon in 1915, and is a concoction of Beefeater Gin, Bénédictine, Cointreau, pineapple juice, lime juice, Angostura bitters, and Peter Heering cherry liqueur, giving it a delicate reddish hue.

I settled into one of the Long Bar’s large, rattan bucket-chairs, feeling slightly conspicuously alone at my table with my tall, eye-catching drink.  Not that I needed to worry: it was late morning, before the lunchtime rush, and I had the place almost to myself.  Outside the temperature was in the 90s, with the humidity even higher but, inside, the atmosphere was as cool as the ice in my cocktail.

At the time, my gin sling cost nine Singapore dollars, which was a fairly considerable sum; nowadays, I understand that the price is four times that amount.  Notoriety does not come cheap.  However, I was able to while away a very pleasant, relaxing hour, undisturbed and unruffled; and, it was well worth it, simply to discover a serene, fan-chilled time-capsule, protected from the oppressive bustle and clamminess of the modern world happening outside.

The drink must have been pretty intoxicating, too, because when I left I seem to acquire a Raffles Hotel towel, of which I have very little memory.

© E. C. Glendenny

E. C. Glendenny thinks some things are best forgotten.

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