After a two-year renovation, the historic hotel aims to attract a new generation without compromising its high standards of luxury.
In Singapore, in an intimate space full of vintage books and leather furnishings, millennials congregate after work. Some on dates, others with groups of friends, they are ready to flirt and mingle. The stylish crowd is international. Some come from across the world. Others, a taxi ride away.
On August 1, this 132-year-old institution, the oldest still-operating hotel in the island nation, will reopen following a more than two-year renovation at an undisclosed cost. There will be new public spaces (some of which, including the Writers Bar, have already opened) and new guest suites.
The hotel is trying to make itself attractive to a new generation without compromising its standards of luxury.
“We were a little tired before the restoration,” said Christian Westbeld, the hotel’s general manager. “I don’t want to say we are now hip, but we are relevant. Mid-twenties are already coming through the door.”
The reopening is happening at an opportune time, as Singapore is experiencing a tourism boom, credited in part to the Crazy Rich Asian books and movie. Last year, the average occupancy rate of Singapore hotels was 87 percent, the highest it has been in a decade, according to the property firm Cushman & Wakefield Inc.
Raffles Singapore has already seen a 25 to 30 percent increase in bookings compared to before the closure, the company said.
It’s hard to call this hotel contemporary, as it opened in 1887, making it 78 years older than the country of Singapore itself. Its namesake is the founder of the colonial Singapore, the British statesman Sir Stamford Raffles. The architecture still screams colonialism. All rooms are suites with polished teakwood floors and white plaster columns. This is the institution that introduced the concept of private butlers to Singapore.
The hotel has had some wild moments. In 1902, a tiger was cornered and shot in the Bar & Billiard Room. Elizabeth Taylor and Charlie Chaplin, not known for their impeccable behavior, were patrons. The main dining room was turned into a roller-skating rink for parties. The Singapore Sling was invented in the Long Bar.
It is that fun energy the hotel hopes to reclaim, while maintaining the distinctive design and architectural elements of its past. Jon Kastl, a partner in Champalimaud, the design firm charged with the renovation, stripped away the gaudy furniture and light fixtures in the lobby to show off the original architecture.
“Did you know the entire hotel, the public areas and guest areas, were painted in the same color white, a color we now call Raffles white,” he said. “It has such a purity to it. It feels fresh and clean.” In the guest rooms, they kept the historic floors made of eucalyptus.
The storied Long Bar has remained. The hotel serves a version of the Singapore Sling that is made by a gin named Sipsmith; it’s produced by Sam Galsworthy, a Brit whose great, great, great, great, great-uncle is Sir Raffles. (Mr. Galsworthy recommended ordering a drink to go, to drink in your room. “My preferred spot for a Sling would be on the veranda of one’s own room overlooking the courtyard,” he said. “Joyous!”)
The Raffles management insisted on maintaining many parts of the hotel as to not upset locals, especially members of the older generation. Approximately 80 to 85 percent of the hotel’s food and beverage business is driven by local residents celebrating birthdays in the restaurants and weddings in the ballroom. Many of the suites are booked by Singaporeans who want to show off the property to friends and business colleagues in town.
“To have such a grand, 19th-century hotel in such a small destination like Singapore, we’ve become the pride of the country,” said Mr. Westbeld. “We could do everything behind the scenes to update and refresh, but we can’t become too avant-garde and futuristic.”
But some parts had to go. The Raffles Grill, a plain room with nondescript wood floors and white walls, is now Le Dame de Pic, a restaurant helmed by Anne-Sophie Pic, a three-Michelin-starred French chef, who thrives on working with vegetables. (Since Raffles was the first hotel in Singapore to employ a French chef, this is a way of continuing with tradition.)