Singapore Sling cocktail turns 100: Cheers at Raffles Hotel

The famed Raffles Hotel drink is still warming throats beneath lazily circling fans in sultry Singapore bars.

The Singapore Sling turns 100 next year and the city state's signature drink is still a popular tourist tipple. It was invented in the venerable Raffles Hotel somewhere in the early 20th century (cocktail history is always vague, blame it on the strong drinks). It is a twist on a gin sling, and has a fairly lengthy list of ingredients for a humble cocktail: gin, Cherry Heering (a Dutch liqueur), Cointreau, Benedictine, pineapple juice, lime juice, grenadine and a dash of bitters. 

Even this list of "official" ingredients is up for debate but, never mind, there are a range of Slings to keep the original company, from the Courtyard Sling (gin, DOM, lychee liqueur, mango juice, Grenadine and ginger beer) to the Tropical Sling (Bacardi, Cherry Heering, passion fruit puree, lime juice, Cointreau, DOM, grenadine and champagne).

"The collection of Slings was created by our then mixologist, now F&B operations manager, Randolph Velasco, and his team of talented bartenders, as a tribute to the original Singapore Sling," says Raffle Hotel's executive assistant manager, food and beverage, Paolo Randone. "Embracing the tradition of innovation and creativity, these Slings are concocted by these bartenders today who are just as enthusiastic about creating new cocktails as Mr Ngiam Tong Boon, creator of the legendary Singapore Sling."  

We give you a trio of top bars to grab a Sling next time you are in the Lion City.

The original (sort of): The Long Bar, Raffles Hotel

This is the bar where the original Sling was created. At first it was "something for the ladies" – hence its pink hue – but now if you swing by the Long Bar at any time of the day there will be tourists of all persuasions shelling peanuts and taking selfies.

"The Singapore Sling is always best enjoyed the same way it was 99 years ago when it was created – just sip it slowly while sitting in a comfortable rattan chair, munching on the peanuts under the ceiling fans at Long Bar," Radone says.

The Long Bar is on the first floor of the hotel and is all dark wood and rattan, dominated by a winding wooden staircase to the floor above.  The bar is not in its original position – it was moved by the hotel in the 1980s.

But while this does invoke a colonial era reverence, in the modern era – and with each Sling at nearly $30 a pop – you find that people don't stay long and the atmosphere is more "production line" than it is "lost afternoon". But for the bar stool tourist grabbing a Sling here is bucket-list stuff.

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The newbie: Potato Head Folk

Housed in a 1930s shophouse, this Singapore newcomer recently opened in Keong Saik Road in Chinatown. Potato Head is an Indonesian brand with a beach club and restaurant in Bali and this new Singaporean bar brings the same whimsical approach to the decor – the stairwell is covered in murals from Enid Blyton books – and seriousness to the cocktails. 

It's four floors of fun with the Rooftop Garden, sultry second-floor bar Studio 1939 and Three Buns Dining Kitchen pumping out burgers like the Smokin' B-Boy burger (beef patty, double-smoked cheese, beer and treacled cured bacon and BBQ ketchup and mayo).

There is no Singapore Sling on the menu but Dre Masso, the group mixologist, will make you one and it will put all others in the shade (yes, maybe even yours, Raffles!). "The Singapore Sling, like a lot of classic cocktails, is quite badly made in its place of birth," Masso says. "They are usually pre-batched with ingredients that are not fresh." 

Masso thinks the drink needs an ambassador to improve its reputation of being "cheesy and overly sweet" and he is happy to start the reinvention, one Sling at a time. Just ask.

The well-kept secret: The Singapore Polo Club

The Singapore Polo Club runs a far more egalitarian race than its name suggests and offers visitors the colonial charm without the colossal price tag. Open to non-members during the evenings of Monday to Thursday, the club is set in acres of tropical greenery with a huge playing field separating you and the nearest skyscrapers. 

There are few places in this increasingly congested and concreted city where you can sit on a 19th century verandah (the club was set up in 1886 by members of the King's Own Regiment) and see so much lawn and when the horses are stabled in the evening the kids can run around on the grass while the adults keep the bar stools warm.

The Singapore Sling? One of the best and cheapest in town. At $10.80, it comes freshly mixed with enough lime juice to keep the drink's inherent sweetness at bay. Team it with a roti prata (Indian flat bread) served with a chicken or vegetable curry for just $10 and you've got one of the best-value options around.

TRIP NOTES

GETTING THERE

Major airlines Singapore Airlines (singaporeair.com), Qantas (qantas.com), Emirates (emirates.com) and British Airways (britishairways.com) all fly to Singapore from Melbourne and Sydney. For low-cost carriers, Scoot (flyscoot.com) flies from Sydney to Singapore and Jetstar (jetstar.com) flies from Melbourne to Singapore.

STAYING THERE

Hotel Clover: doubles from $252 with breakfast at this good mid-range option set in the Arab Quarter with a foyer referencing its former life as a textile house.

769 North Bridge Road; hotelclover.com.sg

DRINKING THERE

If you want to sample the hotly debated original Singapore Sling try Raffles Hotel (1 Beach Road, Singapore; raffles.com/singapore). The new kid on the block is Potato Head Folk (36 Keong Saik Road; pttheadfolk.com). Or for affordable colonial grandeur hit the Singapore Polo Club (80 Mount Pleasant Road, Singapore; singaporepoloclub.org).

MORE INFORMATION

yoursingapore.com

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