The Long Bar at the Raffles Hotel smells of two poisonous things; disappointment, and rotting peanuts. Whereas yesterday we ate cucumber sandwiches in the rarefied air of the Tiffin Room, today we went to drink Singapore Slings, in the company of a mass of tourists who were only at the Long Bar because they’d been told that was what they should do.
I’m not a fan of the Singapore Sling. My wife and her friend had been great aficionados of the drink when they were younger, and demanded today’s pilgrimage. Because they’re both heavily pregnant, neither of them could drink a Sling, so having ordered one, it fell to me to drink it for them. I’ve never harboured an ambition to be a proxy for intoxication, but still it seemed to be a duty I would have to carry out.
I’d never drunk a Singapore Sling before, and I doubt I ever will again. It’s one of those sickly-sweet concoctions that people drank in the days before Bacardi Breezers and Red Bull and Jagermeisters. (Those are not good replacements, but then the Singapore Sling isn’t something that needs replacing, so much as consigning to one of history’s dustbins.) It’s an unpleasant pink colour, although if you let it sit for any length of time, the liquids begin to separate into two layers, the lower a darker pink, the upper a colourless fluid suggesting something bad is going to happen at some point in your life if you insist on drinking the thing.
I managed about half a Sling before my accomplices took pity on me and told me to stop drinking it.
The staff at the Long Bar have one main job – to keep a constant stream of Singapore Slings into the craws of the waiting hordes, demanding their cocktail satisfaction. That means that service is not particularly great, but I suppose that is what we deserve. If we’d chosen to look for a drink that was tailored to our own tastes, rather than a mass-produced concept of what everyone should want, then we would probably have gone somewhere else. Perhaps even somewhere else in the same hotel.
Years ago, a friend of mine had an idea for a bar that he would open in the middle of Dublin, called The Stag And Hen. This would cater solely to stag and hen parties from England, which at that time appeared regularly on the streets of Dublin, making a mess and ruining everyone else’s nights out. By providing a pub that catered solely for them, he’d at once hoover up vast amounts of English cash from these drunks, while acting as a lightning conductor for the rest of the city. The good people of Dublin would be able to go about their business, safe in the knowledge that they didn’t need to interact with a bunch of drunk men / women / beasts dead set on celebrating their last night of freedom.
I think the Long Bar at Raffles performs a similar purpose. Instead of a bunch of ungainly, sunburned, forever complaining tourists cluttering up every bar in Singapore and getting in the way of the serious drinkers, they all end up in one place, where they get the fun that they’ve been told they should receive, while the people who live in Singapore and need to concentrate on a professional alcoholism can do so in peace. Simultaneously, as long as the Raffles can keep the Singapore Sling pipeline going, they’ll make a lot of money. Everyone’s happy.
Except for me, but then I was dumb enough to go to the Long Bar when I didn’t really need to. I suppose at least I’ve learned something from that. The past is a foreign country: it smells a bit strange, and it’s full of tourists.