A suave Hainanese barman at Raffles Hotel named Ngiam Tong Boon once had a penchant for creating sugar-sweet gin cocktails. In 1915, he concocted a mixture that shortly after became known as the Singapore Sling. Today, you can order Ngiam Tong Boon’s supposed creation at Raffles Hotel for a pretty ~$37 SGD (around $29 USD).
The price ensure that only the incredibly wealthy can drink enough to feel drunk.
According to Raffles-sponsored historians, Ngiam Tong Boon created the drink to be purposely pink so that women could consume alcohol under the guise of drinking punch while the men sipped gin straight.
When you walk into Long Bar at Raffles Hotel, it may seem like nothing has changed in the hundred years since Ngiam Tong Boon poured his first sling. The ambiance of the bar is upscale antique. The older furniture and scattered peanut shells across the floor stand in contrast to Singapore’s modern and immaculate exterior. You can almost smell cigar smoke wafting through the air. Of course, the smell is imagined. It’s still Singapore that we’re talking about.
And while you’re taken into a setting that looks and feels as though you’ve stepped back in time, something is amiss. When you order your Singapore Sling, you are instantly taken aback at how quickly the bartender places it onto the bar.
Behind the bar, there are many more Singapore Slings pre-made and waiting in their assembly line to be served to a patron wanting the authentic Singapore Sling experience. It’s akin to hopping the US-Mexico border to Tijuana and watching your bartender pour your drink from a Kirkland margarita mix bottle.
Some Singaporean bartenders are skeptical of Raffles’ claim to the Singapore Sling and have dug deeper into it’s origins. There are rumors of the sling existing as long as a decade before Ngiam Tong Boon’s arrival at the Long Bar, and references to a pink gin-based drink from a different bar tender around two years before the Singapore Sling truly made it onto the scene.
These discrepancies have also inspired other bartenders to create their own variations of the Singapore Sling. You’ll find that when you walk from bar to bar, no two Singapore Slings taste exactly alike (despite the Raffles Hotel publishing the recipe publicly alongside every menu). Now, there seems to be an acceptable grey area where most passionate mixologists will claim that a red sling did exist before Ngiam Tong Boon’s time, but that his addition of pineapple juice is what turned it into the “Singapore” Sling.
Currently, Raffles’ Long Bar is undergoing renovation. Guests can now sip on a Singapore Sling at their pop-up bar. The pop-up bar is devoid of any early 1900s nostalgia and the drinks are still not made-to-order. My recommendation? If you want to try the (maybe) original Singapore Sling and experience some aspect of authenticity, be sure to visit after renovation.