Drinking a Singapore Sling at Its Birthplace

“Nobody in Singapore drinks Singapore Slings. It’s one of the first things you find out there.”
-Anthony Bourdain

I have never tasted a cocktail in a place in which it was invented. I don’t know if I ever will again. At least not at the price I paid in Singapore.

raffles hotel singapore
Raffles Hotel Singapore

It’s not that I haven’t had what most would consider original or unique cocktails — there was the cocktail the bartender gave me that wasn’t on the menu at Kolo Klub at the Pilsner Haus in Hoboken that had Aquavit and who-knows-what (it was tasty) and the ridiculous number of cocktails I sampled at the Manhattan Cocktail Classic — but I hadn’t had a cocktail in the place of its birth, in a place of legend.

When I arrived in Singapore for my short trip, I made a list of places I had to see. One of the top priorities was the Raffles Hotel — more specifically, it was the Long Bar at the Raffles Hotel.

The opulent Raffles Hotel was built in the colonial style in 1887 by Martin and Tigran Sarkies; it was designated a national monument in 1987. During renovations from 1989 to 1991, the Long Bar was relocated to the shopping arcade area — the bar was supposedly relocated at other times throughout the hotel’s history. The Long Bar was patronized by literary greats like Ernest Hemingway and Joseph Conrad (I was tempted to reread Heart of Darkness while sitting at the bar).long bar singapore

The Long Bar is exquisite; it exudes history and class (a societal class I apparently can’t quite afford). The style is reminiscent of the late British colonial era — the details of the bar and tables are there for the patrons to imagine a time before Singapore was a glossy international economic hub. The two-storey bar (second floor was closed when I was there) is supposed to be inspired by Malaysian plantations of the early 20th century. There are even bags of peanuts around the bar — and customers are reminded to just toss the shells on the floor; it’s the only place in Singapore where you’re allowed to litter.

Homer: Aw, $20, but I wanted a peanut.
Homer: Aw, $20, but I wanted a peanut.

This was where I had to order my first Singapore Sling. All I knew about the cocktail was that it’s sweet, and I don’t particularly enjoy cocktails that are too sweet. In honor of the cocktail’s invention 100 years ago by Ngiam Tong Boon, a bartender from China’s Hainan Province, the Long Bar had a menu full of variations of the Singapore Sling — there is no set recipe, so it’s easy to change the flavor. Of course, I ordered the original. It was good — refreshing and not too sweet for the heat and humidity of Singapore.

singapore sling
I better enjoy this now that I have no money in my wallet

I would’ve ordered a second one, but I couldn’t afford it; this was by far the most expensive cocktail I have ever ordered. The original Singapore Sling at the Long Bar costs S$32.95, including tax and service fees (at current exchange rates that’s $24.13). I took my sweet time sipping that cocktail and filling up on peanuts. To put this in perspective, I had a Grey Goose martini with my uncle at the Intercontinental Hotel overlooking Victoria Harbor in Hong Kong for about $18 (I didn’t pay for it) — they left the shaker, which was almost another half a glass, and a nice bowl of olives and nuts. long-bar-singapore2

For some reason, probably to save money on another metro ticket, I walked back to my hostel. I picked up a relatively inexpensive beer at the 7-Eleven next door before heading off to sleep in preparation for the next day’s adventures in Singapore.

I’ve had some impressive spirits and cocktails over the years, but is any cocktail really worth that much money? Would you go out of your way to overspend on one drink?

2 thoughts on “Drinking a Singapore Sling at Its Birthplace”

  1. I never had a Sling here in the 1.5 years I lived in Sing and I probably never will – it comes from a mix and costs far too much! Some great variations abound in Singapore and I think Raffles has too much of a monopoly on this as it is…reminds me of the bellini at Harry’s or other ‘originals’ that have since gone waaaay downhill and now come from a mix.

    1. I don’t recall seeing a mix at Raffles. Seemed like they took their time making the cocktails, but they made them at the other side of the bar, so I didn’t have a great view. It’s not really my choice of cocktail anyway. It was like going to the Rex Hotel in Saigon for the 5 O’clock Follies–great for one, but won’t return.

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