It has to be my first stop on my first day back in Singapore, after a seventeen-hour flight from San Francisco. To get to the three-story structure, I’ve had to walk along underpasses leading to passageways, up moving staircases and in and out of shopping malls, through many-story towers and past convention centers. When I step out at last into the street, I count twenty-one high-rises poking into the heavens, and just this one intimate sanctuary at their heart. As I arrive at last at the low-level jewel-case tucked amidst the skyscrapers, it’s to find a line already snaking around the white verandah. There’s been no official notice of the event—no advertisement—but word has clearly crackled around all Singapore: after nine months of being shuttered, the first public space of the new Raffles has opened again, three hours ago.
I step out of the blinding sunlight, into the cool and dark. I might be stepping into my life from thirty-four years ago, on the day of my first visit here. Peanut shells are scattered across the hardwood floor. Gunny sacks and rattan chairs sit under the undulating hula-sway of gossamer-thin fans fluttering from the ceiling. In one corner Elizabeth Taylor, in a large, framed black-and-white photo, appears to be helping herself to a piece of history; in another, Somerset Maugham is taking silent measure of the storied bar in its latest incarnation.