Raffles Hotel Singapore: Leslie Danker Reveals 5 Facts You May Not Know About The Heritage Hotel
How many Singapore Sling cocktails can five hotel guests drink in two hours? Raffles Hotel Singapore’s resident historian Leslie Danker, who recently released a new memoir of his 48-year career with the grande dame, has the answer.
Of all his encounters with famous celebrities and royals who have stayed at the Raffles Hotel Singapore, Leslie Danker’s meeting with Queen Elizabeth II in 2006 will forever be etched in his memory. “I have always admired the Queen of England,” he shares via email. “I remember greeting her with a bow and saying that her first visit to Singapore in 1972 was the year I joined the Raffles Hotel, to which she replied, ‘That is great!’—three words that will always be special to me.”
That year, Danker joined the hotel as a maintenance supervisor, and over the next five decades, worked in various departments including F&B operations and guest relations. In 2004, he was appointed the hotel’s resident historian, a position he has held since.
His encounter with the queen is one of the many interesting anecdotes that Danker can offer guests—and aptly so, given his 48-year career at the hotel. Being the longest-serving employee, the 81-year-old is the hotel’s walking encyclopedia and also mentor to its next generation of historians.
To mark the grande dame’s 133rd birthday, Danker recently released A Life Intertwined, a follow‑up to Memoirs of a Raffles Original, which was published in 2010. In celebration of its launch, the hotel introduced the Reflections of Raffles package, which also includes a trishaw tour around the hotel detailing the locations mentioned in the new book.
Danker shares five lesser-known facts about the icon on Beach Road as highlighted in his book:
The area around the Raffles Hotel Singapore today is vastly different from when it first opened in 1887. For Danker, three key locations stand out—and each can be linked to a different stage of his life. The first is the current Singapore Art Museum building, which used to be the former St Joseph’s Institution, Danker’s alma mater.
“Every day on my way to work, I would pass the monument and I think of the formative years of my life,” he shares. Danker also used to frequent the old Catholic Centre next door, which is now the NTUC Income Centre, and the Catholic Young Men’s Association, whose former building is now part of the Singapore Management University.
In 1887, the Sarkies brothers built a 10‑room seafront hotel—named after Singapore’s founder Stamford Raffles—that targeted the affluent. During the first restoration in 1989, Danker saw the terracotta tiles that once lined the foundation of the original beach bungalow as well as the coastal sand that was present underneath the marble flooring. For documenting purposes, the then-site manager collected a tube of sand to show the hotel’s humble origins before the city started its land reclamation works—a vast difference to what it looks like today.
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Unknown to its modern residents, the rounded columns along the corridor of the Palm Court Suites were dissected in half by a wall that separates the rooms from the previously open-air veranda. According to Danker, there only used to be a low parapet that sectioned the space from the common corridor and it was in the interest of privacy and weather-related wear-and-tear that the wall was erected.
Before the invention of mechanical showers, the hotel had initially used giant earthenware vessels, known as Shanghai jars, for guests to scoop water out of for their ablutions. In 1904, a guest mistook the jar for an odd-shaped bathtub and immersed himself in it, only to find himself stuck in the process. He was only “rescued” after a room attendant heard his cries for help and broke the jar with a hammer.
The quintessential Singapore Sling, a crimson-coloured gin-based cocktail, was concocted sometime before 1915 by a young Hainanese bartender by the name of Ngiam Tong Boon. He had created the drink for ladies who according to British customs then, were not allowed to be seen consuming alcoholic beverages in public. In 1978, Danker encountered a quintet of tipplers who had 131 cocktails between them in the span of two hours.