A Fling after a Singapore Sling

A Fling after a Singapore Sling

REPUBLIC OF SINGAPORE — Crunch. Crunch. Crunch. The sound of peanut shells cracking under our feet as we entered the legendary Long Bar at the historic Raffles Hotel was somewhat unsettling. Litter, you see, is not permitted in squeaky clean Singapore. But at the Long Bar, it’s encouraged.

Germans, Americans, Brits, a couple of jovial Canadians and a variety of other globetrotters sat shelling peanuts in the dark paneled room where ceiling fans cooled the patrons from the mid-day humidity.

Customers appeared only too happy to continue the tradition of discarding the shells on the floor that started in the early 1900s when the Long Bar first opened.

A parade of servers marched around the large two-storey bar balancing its most popular drink on their trays – a pink concoction known as the Singapore Sling, a potent cocktail that may be better known worldwide than this incredible island nation.

A slender man of Indian descent sitting at the end of the bar noticed my curiosity with the surroundings and the drink and invited me to join him.

Leslie Danker is the ‘resident historian’ at the Raffles Hotel (now owned by Fairmont Hotels) and a man who knows everything about the origins of the Singapore Sling.

Not every hotel has a resident historian but then again Raffles is no ordinary hotel. The throwback to Singapore’s colonial days is a regal plantation-style building where only the most important people stay. That doesn’t stop the rest of us, though, from entering its marbled entrance and gawking at the hotel’s majestic trappings. Hundreds of tourists arrive each day and have their photographs taken with one of the hotel’s accommodating doormen, dressed smartly in traditional Indian uniforms. Some want to know more about the history of Raffles, which opened in 1889 as a 10-room bungalow, and that’s where Leslie Danker comes in.

“So many people requested tours of the hotel that finally management decided, because I know so much about Raffles’ origins, I should assume the role of historian,” said Danker who has held the prestigious title for more than a decade. Now Leslie takes guests on guided tours of the 103 all suite hotel that oozes with charm and history. Each tour usually ends at the Long Bar, where guests order the potent Singapore Sling, which was introduced to customers back in 1915 by an innovative bartender.

“His name was Ngian Tong Boon and he invented the drink to attract more women to the long bar,” said Danker. He noticed men were drinking beer and scotch but the genteel ladies of the day refrained from such harsh liquors.

“So Mr. Boon came up with the Singapore Sling solution, which suited female patrons just fine because of its pretty pink color and the fruit (a slice of pineapple and a cherry) he decorated each with.”

25sin_peo_3  25sin_peo_2

Above:  Dining at Singapore's Raffles Hotel is a tradition and one that must include a Singapore Sling coactail.


Soon, not just women were downing Boon’s mixture which consists of gin, cherry brandy, Cointreau, Dom Benedictine, Grenedine and a variety of fruit juices. Take about a “boon” for business.

“The cocktail shaker Mr. Boon used now on display in our museum as is the recipe, hastily written on the back of a bar chit by an American patron in 1936,” said Danker.

Yes, Raffles has a museum where many of the artifacts from its treasured past along with photographs of its many prominent guests are now displayed. It’s a fascinating place to visit and fitting for a hotel that was made a national treasure a few years ago. It was also recently bought by the prestigious Fairmont chain, so you know it’s only going to get better with age. The servers at the long bar have trouble keeping up with the Singapore Sling requests.

“Between 1,500 and 2,000 are sold daily,” said the informative Danker.

And “damn the cost” seems to the motto employed by Singapore Sling fans, who gladly hand over the equivalent of $21 U.S. for each of the sweet tasting cocktails.

Bartender Boon was also the creator of another of Raffle’s legendary drinks – the Million Dollar Cocktail, which is sold exclusively in the hotel’s historic Bar and Billiard Room.

The Million Dollar Cocktail gained notoriety when it as mentioned in one of author Somerset Maugham’s barside books, The Letter. Maugham, along with other noted writers like Rudyard Kipling, were regular visitors to Raffles and were known to sample a few of the bars scattered about the grand hotel that sits in the most historic parts of the city.

Despite the name, the cocktail costs about the same as the Singapore Sling but it makes you feel like a million dollars when you consume a few.

 

Information

Singapore Sling Recipe:
- 30ml gin
- 15ml cherry brandy
- 120ml pineapple juice
- 15ml lime juice
- 7.5ml Cointreau
- 7.5ml Dom Benedictine
- 10ml Grenadine
- A dash of Angostura bitters
- Garnish with a slice of pineapple and cherry

Million Dollar Cocktail Recipe:
- 30ml gin
- 7.5ml sweet vermouth
- 7.5ml dry vermouth
- 120ml pineapple juice
- A dash of egg white
- A dash of Angostura bitters

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