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As the Raffles Singapore closes for its second major renovation in 2017, 130 years after its opening, an icon of the hospitality industry fades behind the construction walls filled with historical anecdotes, interesting facts and glamour. This Singapore icon, a brand named the Finest hotel of the East, has a rich heritage filled with fascinating stories. Ever since I stayed there, I have found the Raffles Singapore magical. The fabulous hotel remained a heritage building like no other until its renovation. It was, possibly, the only of its kind in the world. With its large box TV sets, clinking pipes and professional butlers who had made a life career out of taking care of guests, stepping into one of the Raffles Singapore colonial rooms was like going back in time. The Raffles Singapore story is unique. So, to pay it tribute while it comes back as a fully renovated gem, I wanted to write a story with the most interesting facts. Here are six of the most fascinating facts about the Raffles Singapore.
1. When it opened, the Raffles Singapore was on a simple bungalow on the beach
Visiting Singapore today it is almost impossible to imagine that the Raffles, now well inland, opened its door in 1887 to the South China Sea. When the Sarkies Brothers, founders of other legendary hotels in Asia like The Strand in Yangon, welcomed the first guests to Raffles Singapore, the hotel only had 10 rooms and was housed in an old bungalow. Today’s Victorian building dates from the last year of the 19th century. At the time, the most fabled hotel of the East used to be located by the beach.
2. The last tiger in Singapore was killed at the Bar & Billiard Room at Raffles Singapore
Singapore’s last known tiger died in 1902 at the Raffles Hotel when it was trying to seek refuge at the Bar & Billiard room.
The link between the Raffles and tigers did not end there. The hotel celebrated 100 years a year early in 1986 to coincide with the year of the tiger and a live one was photographed at the Billiard Room on the first day of the year.
3. The most magnificent hotel of the East
When the Raffles Singapore opened the Bras Basah wing in 1904 that it became “the most magnificent hotel East of the Suez Canal”, a title that it has maintained until today. The hotel’s expansion also brought a few modernities to Singapore for the first time, like electric lights and fans.
4. The birthplace of the Singapore Sing
The Singapore Sling is the country’s most famous cocktail and it has been served at the Raffles since 1915, when Hainanese bartender Ngiam Tong Boon invented the mix to allow women to drink in public with what looked like a juice.
The Long Bar used to serve hundreds of Singapore Slings a day while guests snacked on peanuts and threw the shells on the floor, but it was not the original house of the cocktail. The Long Bar only opened in 1960s as a counter to the ballroom and moved to its last location in 1989 after the hotel’s first restoration.
5. The Raffles Singapore: A Japanese Inn
In 1941, when WWII arrived in Singapore, the Japanese invaded the country and named the Raffles Hotel Syonan Ryokan, the “Light of the South Hotel”.
6. The longest list of celebrities and royalty of any other hotel
Not a lot of hotels can claim to have hosted big names from Kipling to Chaplin, Queen Elizabeth, Ava Garner, Elizabeth Taylor and Michael Jackson.
Photography provided by the Raffles Hotel media team
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