With its lofty halls, restaurants, bars and peaceful gardens, the legendary Raffles Hotel was practically a byword for colonial indulgence, and prompted Somerset Maugham to remark that it “stood for all the fables of the exotic East”. Oddly, though, this most inherently British of hotels started life as a modest seafront bungalow belonging to an Arab trader, Mohamed Alsagoff.
The hotel enjoyed its real heyday during the first three decades of the last century, when it established its reputation for luxury. Opened in 1887, it was the first building in Singapore with electric lights and fans. In 1902, a little piece of Singaporean history was made at the hotel, according to a (probably apocryphal) tale, when the last tiger to be killed onthe island was shot inside the building. Thirteen years later bartender Ngiam TongBoon created another Raffles legend, the Singapore Sling cocktail (still served for theprincely sum of $31). During World War II, the hotel became the officers’ quarters for the Japanese, andafter the Japanese surrender in 1945, it served as a transit camp for liberated Alliedprisoners. Postwar deterioration earned it the aff ectionate but melancholy soubriquet“grand old lady of the East”, and the hotel was little more than a shabby touristdiversion when the government finally declared it a national monument in 1987. A hugely expensive facelift followed and the hotel reopened in 1991.