Doormen at luxury hotels can provide lasting memories of a stay, and nowhere is this more true than at Raffles, the original Raffles. Singapore‘s icon has spawned a growing hotel brand with a reputation so desirable that arguably it was the Raffles name that led Sébastien Bazin, CEO of Accor, to spend $850 million in buying the FRHI group. Once all the paperwork is finished, this doorman, who has been with this hotel for 25 years, will be part of the enormous Accor family. Marjan, born in Singapore, is probably the most photographed doorman in the entire world (who, asks the gal, would take a photo of the door person at a Travelodge in Scunthorpe, not that Travelodges are into door people). He smiles the whole time, anyway, regardless of whether he is being photographed.
What is it actually like, staying in this signature hotel, built in 1887 by Martin and Tigran Sarkies, who also constructed the Eastern & Oriental in Penang, and The Strand in Yangon? The whole complex today occupies one big block, fronting on to Beach Road. Pale cream walls and terracotta tiled roofs wrap around lush inner courtyards, palettes of verdant grass and, in some cases, lush foliage. There are some rooms in the main, three-floor building – others lead off appendage corridors, open on one side. This is the view from 223, named for Gavin Young (a dust jacket from one of his books, Slow Boats Home, is framed in the sitting area). Like all this category of rooms, the front door, flanked by two windows, looks out across the open-sided corridor into treetops.
Go in, and you know you are 1887 updated magnificently to 2015. Varnished timber floors have exotic rugs. Light switches are bakelite buttons set in bronze surrounds. The safe is in an antique free-standing wardrobe. The Nespresso machine has delightful cups and saucers designed by Andrée Putman: the Ronnefeldt teabags come with Ronnefeldt china, including a teapot. From the door in, you go through a sitting area, the bedroom and, at the rear, the bathroom, personalised with big green plants that go so well with the bathtub‘s tiled surround. Character is an adjective that applies magnificently to those staying here. Hotel guests are, by the way, protected from the hordes of tourists who visit Raffles every day, to photograph the doorman and have a Singapore Sling, invented here by Nijam Tong Boon in 1915. Only those staying can access the main staircase and elevators, and go up to the charming rooftop pool.
Swim there, and look across to the 21st century Norman Foster architecture, across Beach Road. I do a quick workout in the adjacent gym, and then, dressed and ready to go, I head down 69 red-carpeted stairs, down through the rooftop-high open atrium to the ground floor. There is the splendid Christmas tree, from Oregon. First it is breakfast, with Raffles‘ corporate head of quality, Thomas Zhong (I could have had a healthy breakfast in my room, with an egg white omelette with asparagus, but it is even more healthy in the Tiffin restaurant, with masses of fruit and six kinds of home-made yoghurt). Fans whirr overhead. A friend, Pierre-Charles Grob of FastBooking – another Accor family member – calls by to say hello. As I leave Marjan-the-doorman is still smiling.