Raffles Hotel Singapore prepares to close for renovations: Hotel to begin new chapter in 130-year history

It's the evening before Raffles Hotel begins its renovation project and the queue for Long Bar snakes around the terrace and down the stairway. News that the hotel, a national monument in Singapore, is closing later this year for a major renovation, has drawn a bigger crowd than usual. Everyone is keen to toast the night with one last Singapore Sling.

It's my first time inside the colonial-style bar where this world's most famous cocktail was invented. My cocktail arrives within minutes of being seated. It's my first Singapore Sling and it looks like everything I imagined – rosy pink and topped with a wedge of pineapple and cherry – sweet and feminine. Ngiam Tong Boon's creation resembling a pink fruit juice was designed to side-step British Colonial social codes that frowned upon women drinking in public. Luckily for me it's 2017 and I happily sip on the sling and watch the barman shake up several more for a table of men behind me.

Raffles Hotel Singapore

Singapore's most famous hotel prepares to close for renovations.

I return to the Long Bar the next day. The once bustling shopping arcade adjoining the hotel where the now closed Long Bar is located, has been sectioned off. There is signage, big and small informing visitors of the hotel's renovation project, but more importantly where they can go to get a Singapore Sling in the meantime – that'll be the Billiard Room – where the queues are just as long.

When the Armenian Sarkies Brothers opened a hotel at No.1 Beach Road in 1887, naming it after Singapore founder Sir Stamford Raffles, few could imagine what started as a 10-room bungalow-style building with sea views would still be around 130 years later. Today the 103-suite only hotel stands, a magnificent white structure on a corner of a busy four-lane street, a large shopping complex to the right and no sea in sight.

The hotel has undergone many transformations over the years, including the addition of the two-storey Palm Court Wing and the construction of the three-storey main building that replaced the original bungalow. In 1989, the hotel closed for extensive renovations, which took more than two years to complete before reopening in 1991. The multimillion-dollar renovation saw the hotel restored to the grand style of its 1915 heydays with guest rooms converted to suites, the restoration of the Billiard Room, Courtyard, Writers Bar and Tiffin Room and the relocation of Long Bar from the lobby to a new adjoining shopping arcade.

This time around, the hotel will only close for the final stage of renovation which will begin near the end of 2017, reopening in mid-2018.

Today it's business as usual. Taxis pull up the driveway dropping off new guests. The Sikh doorman welcomes each who arrives leading them up a red carpet, past the guest-only signs and into the grand lobby. They're not at all aware that behind the scenes a team of people is ready to roll out the first phase of the hotel's renovation plans.

The plans will see the Raffles Arcade, The Ballroom, The Lawn, The Courtyard and Long Bar close while other parts of the hotel operate as normal in the first phase. Phase two, which begins mid-year, will see work done to the main hotel building including the spa, pool and suites including the residents-only Palm Court suites that I'm staying in. The suites have lofty, 14-foot ceilings, a parlour, a bedroom, a dressing room and a bathroom, elegantly furnished with lamps, tables and a butler stand you'd expect to see in a museum.

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It'll be a mix of restoration and renovation; the dark hardwood floors I've walked barefoot on will be removed from each suite, retouched and refitted back into the floor, the parlour will be more spacious and the bathroom will be redesigned. The new spa will be moved to the Raffles Arcade and will be open to non-guests. Its relocation will allow the adjacent space, the pool and fitness area. to be expanded with a much-needed upgrade but remain for resident only use. When the hotel reopens next year there will be a new lobby lounge.

On my last night, I head to the Raffles Grill for dinner. It's the restaurant's first night of service as a casual dining restaurant. The menu combines French fine dining from the Raffles Grill menu with that of the Long Bar Steakhouse, which has now closed for renovations.

Renovations begin at Raffles Singapore

The hotel has begun renovations that will see it enter a new chapter in its 130-year history.

I recognise the waiters from the Long Bar Steakhouse where I dined last night. It hits homes that the renovations have begun. There's an obvious sense of change in the air; an excitement that is noticeable among the staff as they talk about the new menu but I can't help but feel nostalgic for the Raffles I've gotten to know during my short stay; her look, her sound.

I imagine she will look very different the next time I'm here, and I'm delighted to have gotten to know her before she closes her doors again.

TRIP NOTES

MORE

Traveller.com.au/Singapore

raffles.comnhb.gov.sg

FLY

Qantas operates daily services to Singapore from Sydney and Melbourne. Raffles Hotel is about a 20-minute drive from Changi International Airport.

STAY

Rates start from $S750 + taxes for Stateroom, and from $S925 + taxes for Palm Court Suites. 1 Beach Road, Singapore, phone +65 6337 1886. See website above. The hotel is taking bookings until mid-December 2017.

Annie Dang was a guest of Raffles Singapore. She paid for her own flights.

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