Raffles Hotel

Singapore, Singapore | C.1887

Photo Credit: Kevin Siyuan

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From beach house to boarding house, the Raffles Hotel wore many hats before it was transformed into a luxury hotel at the turn of the century. With close proximity to the beach, views of the South China Sea, and a reputation for high standards of service, Singapore’s oldest hotel quickly became a destination for the influencers of the world.

Originating back in the 1830s, the structure first built on the property where the grand hotel now stands was a privately owned, bungalow-style beach house. After forty years, it was then run as a hotel by Dr. Charles Emerson until his death when the Raffles Institution, the oldest school in Singapore, used the building as a boarding house. 

After the Raffles Institution’s lease expired, Armenian hoteliers, the savvy Sarkies Brothers, leased the property and transformed it into a high-end hotel. In 1887, the ten-room Raffles Hotel officially opened to great fanfare. Within a decade of quick success, three new buildings were added, including a new main building, designed in the Victorian Italianate Revival style, on the site of the original beach house. With powered ceiling fans and electric lights, the 75-room Hotel complex carried all the latest fashions of the age.

As international travel became more available, the hotel found itself in a great position to become a legendary attraction renowned for its glamor. Writers and movie stars like Rudyard Kipling, Elizabeth Taylor, and Ava Gardner passed through the Hotel’s halls as its renown grew. The Hotel became known as the birthplace of the Singapore Sling, a cocktail developed in 1913 by bartender Ngiam Tong Boon. Legends also tell of an escaped tiger hiding out in the Billiard Room–which visitors can usually see after a couple of Slings.

While time has passed on and Singapore has continued to grow as a global economic power, the hotel’s status as the elegant home for international movers and shakers has remained the same. Most recently renovated in 2017, one still probably needs to win a raffle to stay here.

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