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Iconic Raffles Hotel bar appoints first Singaporean writer-in-residence to honour local culture

How Raffles Singapore, No. 17 on The World’s 50 Best Hotels list, is blending literature, libations and local heritage.

Iconic Raffles Hotel bar appoints first Singaporean writer-in-residence to honour local culture

Madeleine Lee, Writer-in-Residence, Raffles Writer's Residency Programme 2023. (Photo: Raffles Singapore)

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As the sun starts to dip below the horizon, we have cosied up in a corner of Raffles Hotel Singapore's Writer's Bar, sipping on cocktails. This iconic bar has seen its fair share of literary legends over the years – the likes of Rudyard Kipling, Somerset Maugham, and Ernest Hemingway all found inspiration here.

This year, Raffles Singapore has taken another step in its quest to embody the cultural essence of the little red dot by appointing its very first Singaporean writer-in-residence, writer and poet Madeleine Lee. Over the span of a year, Lee visited the hotel on multiple occasions, soaking in its unique atmosphere to craft her latest poetry collection, How to Build a Lux Hotel.

It is a literary love letter to the hotel inspired by overheard conversations, meaningful interactions and astute observations she made while wandering the storied halls of Singapore’s grand dame.

Cocktails from Raffles Singapore (from left): Tiffin & Co, Balcon and Mikan. (Photo: Raffles Singapore)

Interestingly, her work did not just stay on the pages of her collection. They have also found their way into the fancy glasses of the Writer's Bar. Take, for instance, her poem Balcon, which paints a vivid picture of guests mingling on the balconies, watching the world go by. The hotel has a created a cocktail with the same name, a refreshing mix of Billecart-Salmon champagne, gin, absinthe and Perrier lemon – the ideal sundowner while you soak up the surroundings.

Christian Westbeld, the managing director of Raffles Hotel Singapore can identify; he revealed his favourite time of day is that magical golden hour.

“I enjoy walking around the building and admiring how the sunlight falls on the white pillars around the hotel, softening the mood. Of course, the iconic architecture of the building in its beautiful Victorian style is something that never grows old and is loved by all our guests," he said.

Raffles Singapore was No. 17 on the inaugural The World’s 50 Best Hotels list. (Photo: Raffles Singapore)

Through its 136-year history, the hotel, which was placed at No. 17 on the inaugural The World’s 50 Best Hotels list, has in many ways, strived to be a window into Singapore for international guests and locals alike. Going beyond the familiar tourist destinations, it offers insightful experiences that offer a deeper look into different aspects of the country’s heritage and culture.

“We have always been close to the community. It started out with the hotel’s beautiful, iconic architecture and over the years, the hotel has remained relevant at every single period of Singapore's history. That is in the DNA of what we do here on a day-to-day basis,” said Westbeld.

For example, as the Singapore Symphony Orchestra’s (SSO) official hotel, the team has worked to incorporate various dimensions to this partnership by offering guests as well as the local community different ways to interact with the national orchestra. Visiting musical artistes and maestros get to reside at the hotel, where they can perhaps draw creative inspiration from the hotel’s serene gardens and spaces in the convivial company of other guests.

Singapore Symphony Orchestra is working with Raffles Singapore by offering guests as well as the local community different ways to interact with the national orchestra. (Photo: Singapore Symphony Orchestra)

The hotel has also extended its support to the orchestra’s outreach and concert programmes via Magic Hour @ Raffles Hotel Singapore, a series of free public live music performances at the hotel's lawn. “This unique experience allows the local community and hotel guests to enjoy being a part of something special in an intimate outdoor setting,” said Westbeld.

And for die-hard music aficionados, the hotel has a Suite Serenade package that includes a two-night stay in a suite, dinner with a visiting maestro and tickets to an SSO performance. “As a strong supporter of Singapore’s arts scene, this is how we can connect the hotel with local culture and experiences,” he added.

A mural inspired by the history of Long Bar by artist Alvin Mark Tan. (Photo: Raffles Singapore)

The Long Bar???one rare bar where it is acceptable to throw peanut husks on the floor while sipping on a Singapore Sling???has also provided inspiration for the hotel’s latest artistic endeavour.?It recently commissioned local artist Alvin Mark Tan to paint a new mural outside the Long Bar that depicts a historical scene of this bar where the Singapore Sling was invented.?

“We want to make sure that the hotel is opening up spaces to local artists to continue to showcase and tell their stories,” said Westbeld.

Even at its overseas outposts, Raffles Hotel has committed to preserving and promoting heritage by skilfully weaving its legacy into the fabric of Raffles Hotels worldwide. In essence, the legacy of Raffles Hotel Singapore serves as a blueprint for every new hotel as it seeks to create its unique narrative.

"The moment there is a new Raffles Hotel opening anywhere else in the world, the connection and the dotted lines to this property are evident. There is this uniqueness about a Raffles Hotel, that it is as close to the community and destination as possible, wherever it is located,” said Westbeld.

That said, in line with the Raffles Hotel ethos, there is no such thing as a “copy-paste” approach. “We have a very open way of interpreting the level of services and how we present the hotel to the community so there is no need to replicate what we do here in Singapore,” he said.

For instance, the Raffles Maldives Meradhoo has its own marine biologist to educate guests on its marine environment. And at the newly launched Raffles London at The OWO, which is located in what was the Old War Office building, the space has been painstakingly restored to pay homage to its history of espionage.

Ultimately, the proof of how Raffles Hotel has upheld its heritage lies in its longevity. “We have remained the flagship and keystone to the brand over such a long period of time,” said Westbeld. “It is rewarding every day to be the custodian of this hotel and this brand-defining asset. And even bigger than the recognition is the pride that Singapore and Singaporeans have about this property at an international level.”

Source: CNA/bt