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Although its resplendent lobby is only accessible to hotel guests, Singapore's most iconic slumber palace is worth a quick visit for its magnificent ivory frontage, famous Sikh doorman and lush, hushed tropical grounds. The hotel started life in 1887 as a modest 10-room bungalow fronting the beach (long gone thanks to land reclamation). Undergoing renovation at the time of research, it is expected to reopen in mid-2019.
Behind the hotel were the Sarkies brothers, immigrants from Armenia and proprietors of two other grand colonial hotels – the Strand in Yangon (Rangoon) and the Eastern & Oriental in Penang. The hotel's heyday began in 1899 with the opening of the main building, the same one that guests stay in today. Before long, 'Raffles' became a byword for oriental luxury ('A legendary symbol for all the fables of the Exotic East', went the publicity blurb) and was featured in novels by Joseph Conrad and Somerset Maugham. The famous Singapore Sling was first concocted here by bartender Ngiam Tong Boon in 1915, and (far less gloriously) a Singaporean tiger, escaped from a travelling circus nearby, was shot beneath the Billiard Room in 1902. A shabby relic by the 1970s, the property dodged the wrecking ball in 1987 with National Monument designation, reopening in 1991 after a S$160-million facelift.