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Sipping on a cherry-red Singapore Sling at the Long Bar in Raffles Hotel is perhaps the most iconic thing to do in Singapore. Though it won’t score you the cultural points of say a visit to the National Museum, you may not feel too upset about spending an hour or two forcing yourself to down the slightly sweet, easily drinkable cocktail in the name of historical tourism.
Reputed to have been invented at the turn of last century (that is, the early 1900s) by Hainanese-Chinese bartender Ngiam Tong Boon at the Long Bar, the drink was designed to be for women, who in those quaint days needed to be enticed to drink alcohol, so the cocktail was made pink.
These days the drink remains pink, but it’s now exceedingly expensive at S$27 for a standard Singapore Sling. On top of that, as is usual for upper-end Singapore establishments there’s the “plus plus” – an automatic 10% service charge and 7% taxes. If the original doesn’t tickle you, various twists on the Sling are available at the same price.
The Long Bar you can visit today on Level 2 in the arcade area of Raffles is not the colonial bar where the likes of Somerset Maugham and Rudyard Kipling put away gin and tonics while penning stories about the jungles of Malaya. The original Long Bar was located in the hotel lobby but moved to its current location during a major refurbishment in 1991.
The prices certainly don’t deter the crowds — we were lucky to get a table during our August 2014 visit. Unlike the other restaurants and bars in Raffles Hotel, the Long Bar does not have a formal dress code and you’ll be welcomed inside even if you’re wearing shorts or have the kids in tow. The setting is unpretentious with wicker chairs, peanut shells littering the floor, and overhead fans shaped like leaves — perhaps to conjure images of overdressed British governors being fanned by their servants?
A standard cocktail (Manhattan, Cosmopolitan, apple martini, for instance) goes for $23; a Tiger draught beer is $18; a Shirley Temple will set you back $14. A snack menu is available — think prawn and mango spring rolls for $18 or steak house fries for $12, but there’s complimentary free-flow crack-your-own-shell peanuts on the tables that are enough to nibble on while you have your Sling. The peanuts alone are so more-ish you might even be tempted to buy a second round (which nets you a Singapore Sling cocktail shaker); then again, a round for two would get you a bed in one of Singapore’s better hostels.
To conclude: Did we enjoy the drink? Sure. The Singapore Sling may be considered a classic tropical cocktail, but it also tastes a lot like spiked fruit punch. Was the Singapore Sling worth the price? Not really. On our last visit, the service was obliging when we were able to snare some, but the place was packed and it was difficult to get a waiter’s attention. There are other uniquely Singaporean drinks or bars with better prices. But if you’ve got cash to flash and time to kill, then it’s hardly an arduous undertaking and you can always pretend you are there to immerse yourself in a bit of history.
Since it’s printed on the menu, we’re not spilling any trade secrets by sharing the Raffles recipe for the original Singapore Sling:
30 mL gin
15 mL cherry brandy
120 mL pineapple juice
15 mL lime juice
7.5 mL Dom Benedictine
7.5 mL Cointreau
10 mL grenadine
A dash of Angostura bitters
Garnish with a slice of pineapple and cherry
You can buy a pre-mix in the hotel gift shop if you’re keen on the drink but don’t want to rustle up all the ingredients.
And if you’re not keen on drinking? You can always just grab a notepad from the gift shop instead.
By Stuart McDonald
Last updated on 7th February, 2016.