While Singapore imposes fines of up to $10,000 for littering, the Long Bar in the iconic Raffles Hotel is much less strict. In fact, they even encourage customers and curious visitors to toss peanut shells on the floor. The elegant Long Bar has a history of allowing such transgressions — the famous Singapore Sling was invented here in the early 1900s. This potent pink potable became a favorite among young women at a time when it was deemed inappropriate for ladies to drink alcohol in public. It might be a cocktail, but it’s also a little piece of history. The Singapore Sling, famously enjoyed by writer Hunter S. Thompson’s characters in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, is not just a drink — it’s an emblem of a certain time and place. As cocktail-expert David Wondrich discovered in Singapore’s dusty national archives, it was “a pink drink for pale people.”
Raffles Hotel, Singapore, 1915. Bartender Ngiam Tong Boon creates a gin-based concoction with pineapple and lime juice. To achieve its signature pink hue, he adds grenadine and cherry liqueur. In colonial Singapore, Raffles was the go-to spot for English high society, and the Long Bar served as the venue for their gatherings. The men drank gin or whiskey, while the women abstained from alcohol in accordance with societal expectations. Instead, they sipped tea and fruit juice. Spotting an opportunity, Ngiam Tong Boon, created a visually appealing cocktail that secretly packed a high-proof punch. “The smart bartender whipped up this pink drink, adding a feminine touch and using clear alcohol, so people would see it as a suitable beverage for women,” they say at the Raffles Hotel. It was a smashing success. So much so that the Singapore Sling is now considered the national beverage.
What exactly is in a Singapore Sling? According to David A. Embury’s note in his 1948 book, The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks, it is clear that the answer is not so simple. “Out of all the published recipes for this drink, I’ve never seen two that are alike.” The Long Bar won’t reveal its secret recipes, and the drink in Singapore is not the same as in the United States, where bartenders are more generous with the gin. According to the International Bartenders Association (IBA), the ingredients are gin, cherry liqueur, Cointreau, Bénédictine liqueur, pineapple and lime juice, grenadine and a pinch of Angostura bitters. It’s garnished with a slice of pineapple and a cherry.
Over the past century, the Raffles Hotel has become an iconic cultural hub, much like the Ritz in Madrid or the Savoy in London. It has welcomed renowned writers like Rudyard Kipling and Joseph Conrad, as well as famous actors, singers, and even royals like Queen Elizabeth II. Initially serving around 20 mixed drinks a day, the Long Bar can now proudly offer over 2,000. The lounge, once a reflection of a colonial, segregated society, is now a big tourist attraction for Westerners who wait in long lines to try the national cocktail, which will set you back $26 due to the country’s high tax on alcoholic beverages. Nothing near the two bucks it cost back in 1915. The Singapore Sling, it seems, is still a pink drink for pale people.
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