Five o' Clock Somewhere: A Singapore Sling at Raffles

Five o' Clock Somewhere: A Singapore Sling at Raffles

 

While the vast majority of us remain stuck where we are, writer, traveller and drinker Harry Seymour invites us to do a bit of armchair travelling with a new series focused on iconic cocktails, and the hotel bars that invented them. First up, a Singapore Sling at the legendary Raffles.

Illustration by Amanda Berglund.

Raffles, Singapore’s landmark hotel — otherwise affectionately known as the ‘Grand Dame’ — is a low-slung, all-white, colonial-era complex of terraces and gardens founded in 1887 by four Armenian brothers.

The hotel quickly became the watering hole for rubber and palm oil plantation owners, colonists from French Indochina and Hong Kong, and merchants en route to Japan. But while the men were free to drink themselves into oblivion every night on the hotel’s veranda, etiquette dictated women stuck to fruit juice. 

During my last visit to the hotel I was greeted by Raffles’ longest serving employee and resident historian — a debonair man called Leslie Danker who patrols the corridors in a sharply-pressed suit armed with photographs of guests from Michael Jackson to Queen Elizabeth II. He told me that their signature cocktail was born from this injustice. 

‘In 1915 our bartender Ngiam Tong Boon created the Singapore Sling for these ladies. It looked like fruit juice but was actually infused with gin,’ says Danker. ‘The splashes of grenadine and cherry liquor gave it a feminine, pink flair.’

Thankfully today, the cocktail is freely enjoyed by all, and in 2019 the Long Bar installed a beautiful dark-green cast iron, hand-cranked contraption that can shake up to 18 Slings in one go. 

Leaning back into a rattan chair near the dark-wood art deco counter, between potted palms and underneath a low timbered ceiling covered in punkah (fabric ceiling fans originally powered by cords tied to the toes of hotel attendants), I sipped the tall, sweet, rosy beverage served with a chunk of fresh pineapple, and Danker told me more stories from the bar. 

He began by recounting how in 1902, the last tiger to be killed in Singapore was shot here. ‘It escaped from a local circus and hid under the floor. A local headmaster known to be a sharp-shooter arrived with his rifle, drunk and in his pyjamas. His first three attempts missed, but the fourth caught it right between the eyes,’ he said tapping his forehead. 

 

Images courtesy of Raffles Hotel.

In 1921, the bar’s beachfront veranda, which was made in Glasgow and shipped to Singapore, was replaced with a ballroom. After renovations in 1991, the Long Bar moved to its current location across the hotel. (Today, more than a mile of reclaimed land covered in skyscrapers stretches between the bar and the sea).

Fortunately, many of the bar’s original features moved too, I recall Danker telling me, like the billiards table which was ordered by the four founding brothers. Another famous antique is the hotel’s 19th century grandfather clock. Every evening as it strikes 8pm, Noël Coward’s I’ll See You Again is played across the lobby.

Later, I quizzed Danker about a grizzlier legend from the hotel’s history. Supposedly, on the eve of Japan’s surrender at the end of the Second World War, some 300 Japanese officers and soldiers stationed at Raffles threw a farewell saké party in the hotel before committing seppuku — the ritualistic suicide of falling on your samurai sword. Whether true or not, he denied any knowledge.

He did confirm, though, that the hotel’s silverware, which was buried by staff in the flowerbeds before the Japanese arrived, is still occasionally wheeled out in the restaurant.  

As I finished my drink and brushed my peanut shells onto the floor (The Long Bar is the only place in a city which famously outlawed chewing gum where littering is encouraged), Danker told me that they serve around 1,000 Slings a day now. ‘It’s even come to be regarded as our national drink,’ he added.

And with that, like clockwork, he stood up and said farewell just as Coward’s tune began to play next door. 




How to Make a Singapore Sling, the Raffles Way

 

  • 30ml of Widges Dry Gin 
  • 10ml of DOM Bénédictine
  • 10ml of Pierre Ferrand Dry Curaçao
  • 10ml of Luxardo Cherry Sangue Morlacco
  • 10ml of Crawley’s Singapore Sling Grenadine
  • A dash of Scrappy’s Spice Plantation Bitters
  • 22.5ml of fresh lime juice
  • 60ml of fresh pineapple juice

 

Method

 

  1. Chill a 12oz glass of with ice. 
  2. Combine all ingredients into a shaker with lots of ice.
  3. Cap your shaker and give it a good vigorous shake for 12 seconds.
  4. Strain the cocktail into your chilled glass.
  5. Garnish with a skewer of cherry and a pineapple wedge.