Raffles Motel – Singapore
The grand dame of Singapore has emerged from a major restoration at the end of 2018 and early 2019.
Originally opened in 1887 by the four Sarkies brothers — savvy merchants and entrepreneurs — the hotel has welcomed every manner of celebrity and diplomat over the years.
It’s so rooted in Singapore history that the government declared the building a protected National Monument in 1987.
From gleaming wooden floors to open courtyard gardens, luxurious afternoon tea sets and spacious suites, the hotel has long been associated with old-world comforts — not to mention the famous Singapore Sling, which was invented at the hotel’s Long Bar.
This year, international architecture firm Aedas is leading the ultra-sensitive renovation project. The plan aims to re-imagine the social areas and dining experiences, refresh suites with updated technology and incorporate long overdue amenities — such as soundproof bedroom windows — while retaining the building’s beautiful old bones.
Raffles Hotel is a colonial-style luxury resort in the Downtown Core area of Singapore. It had been instituted by Armenian hoteliers, the Sarkies Brothers, in 1887. The resort was named after British statesman Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, the founder of colonial-era Singapore.
It is the flagship property of Raffles Hotels & Resorts, and can be handled by AccorHotels later Accor obtained FRHI Hotels & Resorts. The resort is owned by Qatar-based, government-owned Katara Hospitality.
Raffles Singapore, 1 Beach Rd, Singapore 189673; +65 6337 1886
The Long Bar in Raffles Hotel Singapore
In 1989, the resort closed to experience an extensive renovation which lasted two decades and cost $160 million. The resort reopened on 16 September 1991. While the resort was restored into the expansive fashion of its own 1915 heyday, important changes were made. All guest rooms have been converted into suites. Additionally, Long Bar, that was a favourite place of actors like Somerset Maugham, was hauled in the lobby into a new adjacent shopping arcade. The Long Bar is well known for sponsors’ unusual practice of throwing peanut casings onto the floor. Long Bar is also where the national cocktail, the Singapore Sling, was invented by bartender Ngiam Tong Boon.
On 18 July 2005, it was announced that Colony Capital LLC would purchase Raffles Holdings the entire chain of Raffles Hotels, which included the Raffles Hotel, for $1.45 billion.
In April 2010, it was reported that a Qatari sovereign wealth fund bought Raffles Hotel for $275 million. In addition to taking over the Raffles Hotel, the Qatar Investment Authority would inject $467 million into Fairmont Raffles Hotels International in exchange for a 40% stake in the luxury hotel chain.
At one time, Raffles Hotel maintained a hotel museum. It displayed memorabilia such as photographs, silver and china items, postcards and menus, as well as old and rare editions of the works of the famous writers who had stayed there. The museum also displayed photographs of its famous guests and visitors. The Raffles Hotel Museum closed in 2012. In December 2015, the Fairmont/Raffles brands were purchased by the French multinational hotel group AccorHotels.
A major renovation of the hotel was undertaken starting January 2017, and the hotel closed in December 2017 to allow renovation work to proceed. The rooms were refurbished and soundproofed, and the number of suites increased from 103 to 115. New technologies were incorporated and a new marble floor was installed. Its various food and beverage outlets were revamped, and the Writer’s Bar formerly in a corner of the lobby given its own space. Its former Jubilee Theatre was transformed into a ballroom. The hotel reopened on 1 August 2019. The hotel won the award for the renovation and restoration from the AHEAD Asia awards.
Raffles Hotel has a shopping arcade with 40 specialty boutiques.  The arcade also houses most of the hotel’s restaurants.
In popular culture
- Raffles is the setting for Ryū Murakami’s novel and its film adaptation titled Raffles Hotel. The film was shot on location.
- The hotel was featured as a Japanese stronghold in Medal of Honor: Rising Sun.
- The hotel was where Nick and Rachel stayed when they arrived in Singapore in Crazy Rich Asians (film).
- Raffles Hotel was the subject of Paul O’Grady’s Orient for Carlton Television.
- Raffles Hotel featured in episodes of the BBC/ABC co-production Tenko, with the majority of series 3 taking place in the hotel.
- The 2018 renovation was the subject of the TV documentary series, Raffles: An Icon Reborn
- In Malcolm Pryce’s 2020 detective novel,’The Corpse at the Garden of Perfect Brightness‘, the detective, Jack Wenlock, tracks down and interviews a contact at Raffles. Throughout the book, characters refer to the hotel rather unusually as “the Raffles,” rather than simply “Raffles”.
Raffles Hotel Singapore started as a privately owned beach house built in the early 1830s. It first became Emerson’s Hotel when Dr. Charles Emerson leased the building in 1878. Upon his death in 1883, the hotel closed, and the Raffles Institution stepped in to use the building as a boarding house until Dr. Emerson’s lease expired in September 1887.
Almost immediately after the first lease expired, the Sarkies Brothers leased the property from Syed Mohamed Alsagoff, its owner, with the intention of turning it into a high-end hotel. A few months later, on 1 December 1887, the ten-room Raffles Hotel opened. Its proximity to the beach and its reputation for high standards in services and accommodations made the hotel popular with wealthy clientele.
Within the hotel’s first decade, three new buildings were added on to the original beach house. First, a pair of two-story wings were completed in 1890, each containing 22 guest suites. Soon afterward, the Sarkies Brothers leased a neighboring building at No. 3 Beach Road, renovated it, and in 1894, the Palm Court Wing was completed. The new additions brought the hotel’s total guest rooms to 75.
A few years later, a new main building was constructed on the site of the original beach house. Designed by architect Regent Alfred John Bidwell of Swan and Maclaren, it was completed in 1899. The new main building offered numerous state-of-the-art (for the time) features, including powered ceiling fans and electric lights. In fact, the Raffles Hotel was the first hotel in the region to have electric lights.
The hotel continued to expand over the years with the addition of wings, a veranda, a ballroom, a bar and billiards room, as well as other buildings and rooms.
In 1902, an escaped tiger was shot in the Bar & Billiards room, which was originally constructed at an elevation to create storage space.
The Great Depression spelled trouble for Raffles Hotel and, in 1931, the Sarkies Brothers declared bankruptcy. In 1933, the financial troubles were resolved, and a public company called Raffles Hotel Ltd. was established.
Raffles Hotel, Palm Court Wing
Upon the start of the Japanese occupation of Singapore on 15 February 1942, it is said that the Japanese soldiers encountered the guests in Raffles Hotel dancing one final waltz. Meanwhile, staff buried the hotel silver–including the silver beef trolley–in the Palm Court.
During World War II, Raffles Hotel was renamed Syonan Ryokan (昭南旅館, shōnan ryokan), incorporating Syonan (“Light of the South”), the Japanese title for inhabited Singapore, also ryokan, the title for a traditional Japanese inn.  The resort was recovered in 1945 through Operation Tiderace from the British Navy. Stanley Redington increased the British Naval Jack along with the Raffles Hotel.
In 1987, a century after it first started, Austrian writer and writer Andreas Augustin found the long lost first drawings of Raffles Hotel, hidden in a Singaporean archive. That year these drawings were printed for the first time in the publication The Raffles Treasury. Raffles Hotel was declared a National Monument by the Singapore authorities in 1987.