Raffles hotel: unexplained changes resulting in history lost

Sitting in the famous Raffles hotel Long Bar, sipping enthusiastically on the sweet pink cocktail that was made famous by bartender Ngiam Tong Boon in the 1910’s, I have now officially ticked off one more of the “1000 places to see before you die”. Also a Singapore national monument.

Drinking a Singapore Sling in the Long Bar has to be one of the most cliché, touristy things I have ever experienced, and I cringe at the thought. But, despite them being a pricey $27 each, plus 10% service charge and then a 7% tax on top, it was totally worth it!

I’ve sat here before, although I can only vaguely recall it, over 20 years ago, and drinking instead, a coke! I was here with my parents in 1990 and I’m pretty sure this bar was situated downstairs? Update: renovations to the hotel, resulting in the reopening in 1991, included the Long Bar being relocated to the upstairs area of the adjoining shopping arcade. Why did they change it, and how many visitors wanting to experience a little piece of history would be disappointed to know this?  Further research concludes that the location of the original Long Bar is a bit of a mystery, as it had in fact been relocated numerous times before that.

The walls in the Long Bar now, consist of dark wood panels, making the space feel cool, but almost dingy. I remember a distinctly different atmosphere, which seems to have dissipated, and been replaced by tables full of thirsty tourists, indulging in their pre-mixed cocktails. It’s not the sophisticated place I remember as a kid, I’m sure.

The palm leaf ceiling fans swish softly back and forth above the marble floor which is littered with peanut shells. Quite a sight, and some what liberating to wade through crushing them beneath your feet.

Each table has a wooden box piled full with peanuts, the shells of which you are positively encouraged to discard onto the floor. It feels odd, and you will no doubt want to make a pile on the table beside you instead. The bar staff however, will throw these on the floor when they clear your table, so you should just go with it.

A few things, other than the Long Bar, have changed here at Raffles hotel over the years. Fortunately, one is the removal of the required dress code, perhaps connected with the change of location of the Long Bar, and to encourage the tourist crowds to come here. The other is disappointingly the removal of the on site museum and well known resident historian.

The signs are still there? Numerous websites, including the wiki pages promise displays of the rich history of the hotel, along with memorabilia and rare editions of works of famous writers who stayed there. But the reality is sadly … nothing more than a few pieces that have been selected for display on the shelves around the gift shop, which, if you are not vertically challenged, you may be able to see.

I enquired at the gift shop and was informed that the museum closure is as recent as the beginning of the year. I hope there is a reasonable explanation for putting an end to sharing the history of a national monument. If only I had come here earlier. It’s such a shame.

Raffles facade in 2013

Raffles has a lengthy history and many a celebrity have stayed here and no doubt will continue to do so, but what of the history, will it be slowly hidden further until it is permanently lost?