Charley Larcombe draws back the red velvet curtains at one of Singapore’s most dramatic hotels for a little staycation.
Where in Singapore is there a gleaming gold rhino standing as a reception desk, or six hand-hammered brass banyan trees appearing to hold up the ceiling? What sort of place would have great gold elephants looking like they’re emerging from a lift or artwork that isn’t stationary but follows you around the room? Where has red velvet seating so plush you can bury your fingers in the pile and lighting low enough even during the day to evoke the era of elicit cocktail bars?
Ladies and Gentlemen, as the hotel’s adage says, “If you must get into trouble, do so at Hôtel Vagabond.” And the décor certainly makes you feel like getting into trouble here could be very stylish indeed.
The interior of this 41-room hotel close to the banks of the Rochor Canal on Syed Alwi Road, is thanks to Parisian designer, Jacques Garcia – the creative mastermind behind ultimate escapism joints like The Danieli in Venice and Hotel Costes in Paris. These are Bucket List places to stay, that have transcended mere hotel status to be a destination in their own right. Go to Paris to see the Eiffel Tower, or see all you need to of the City of Light from your Hotel Costes bed, looking at the ceiling? With a hotel as stunning as that, it’s a tough weigh-up. And it seems to be a similar ambience created at Hôtel Vagabond; a place to take a vacation from the everyday; a place quite unlike the rest of Singapore.
There is a distinct nod to Paris here due to the colour palette of bitten-lip rouge and Cleopatra-esque gold, but the touches are all a little more exotic. Going back to that Rhino in the lobby, it was actually curated by a hugely respected artisan family in India who have the proud, multi-generation tradition of making armour for the Rajasthani royal family. Hotel owner, Satinder Garcha and his wife Harpeet Bedi who manages the day-to-day running of Hôtel Vagabond have given many personal touches to this hotel too. In particular with the art, which is clearly a passion for both of them.
Stepping into the Salon, with a bar presided over by giant baboon installation, La Mona, is like releasing your inner Flapper girl at a speakeasy. Order yourself a martini or one of the cocktails-with-a-twist on offer from Head Bartender, Shah, and take a wander around the gallery-like walls. Contemporary artists are placed alongside classics, as well as striking photography; it’s a cacophony of great pieces. Part of the hotel’s mission is to make culture and creativity more accessible through an Artists-in-Residence programme. Local and international artists are often invited to apply for a residency at the hotel during which they will stay, work and converse with guests. It’s a fabulous touch to make Vagabond like a living and breathing studio.
So, indulge in the cocktails here but skip dinner – you’re slap-bang in the centre of a foodie haven in this part of town, so step out for something delicious. If you need inspiration, either take your trusted copy of ANZA magazine (Our August Check-Out is a gastronomy insider’s guide to Jelan Basar) or take one of the gorgeous printed maps of Little India and Kampong Glam on offer in the hotel lobby. Little hand drawn roads and personal recommendations from the staff, are much more of an adventure – after all there has to be a little bit of that even if you are holiday-ing at home.
Once you’re back, head to your room. As is no surprise in a heritage building – clock the Art Deco design of the exterior – space is at a premium, but the hotel has done a great job at making the best of it. Tapestried sliding doors, rainfall showers and a room that is essentially all bed, is perfect for a hotel room with romance.
For the techies amongst you, you’ll like “Handy” the sleek smartphone which has free local and international calls plus unlimited data. This is rather handy if you want to say, stay another day and set up a temporary office whilst still in your robe…but what a great advantage if you’re an actaul visitor to Singapore too, don’t you think?
For those looking to relax, grab one of the fluffy white robes in the wardrobe, plump-up the pillows and settle back for a movie marathon. From action-packed blockbusters, to art-house avant garde flics; from kids’ classic to Oscar gold, there is enough to keep you entertained. Break into the minibar – you’re on holiday – and indulge.
Staycations may seem an obsolete solution in Singapore where so much is on our doorstep and a short hop-skip-and-a-jump-away on Scoot and you’re at a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but now and again, how great is it to just book into a hotel here at home? No fuss; no stress; little organisation. Perfect. After all, isn’t that what a holiday should be about? Take a mini-break from the mundane and check-in to Hôtel Vagabond.