Raffles Hotel Review
This hotel began life as the home of a British sea captain. In 1887 the Armenian Sarkies brothers took over the building and transformed it into one of Asia's grandest hotels. Raffles has experienced many ups and downs, especially during World War II, when it was first a center for British refugees, then quarters for Japanese officers, and then a center for released Allied POWs. There's a delicious irony to the hotel: although it's regarded as a bastion of colonialism, it's actually an Armenian creation, and in its 130 years of hosting expatriates, it has only once had a British manager. Even so, service has been unfailingly loyal to the colonial heritage. Right before the Japanese invasion, the Chinese waiters took the silverware from the dining rooms and buried it in the Palm Court garden, where it remained safely hidden until the occupiers departed.
The hotel deteriorated after the war, surviving by trading on its heritage rather than its facilities. However, in late 1991, after two years of renovation and expansion, Raffles reopened as the republic's most expensive hotel (S$650 a night and upward). You can no longer just roam around inside. Instead you're channeled through recreated colonial-style buildings to a free museum (open daily 10-7) of Raffles memorabilia and then, perhaps, to take refreshment in a reproduction of the Long Bar, where the famous Singapore Sling was created in 1915 by bartender Ngiam Tong Boon. The Sling here is still regarded as Singapore's best; note that the S$18.30 tab includes service and tax—if you want to keep the glass you can shell out another S$18. Some consider the new Long Bar a travesty, with manually operated punkahs (fans) replaced by electric-powered ones. Casual visitors are discouraged from entering the original part of the hotel, via the front reception and lobby area, and nowadays the once lovely Palm Court is not only out of bounds but, to all appearances, devoid of life. Still, the historical hotel's Tiffin Room, Empire Café, and Bar & Billiard Room are definitely worth a visit. You can also browse the arcade's 65 shops, stop by Doc Cheng's for its "transethnic" cuisine, or head to the tiny Writers' Bar for a drink.
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