Singapore has Raffle's; Bangkok has the Hilton; Penang, less famously, has the Eastern & Orient hotel, which deserves to star in a film or a book as much as any of them. Built in the days of the East India Company, the grand hotel is a masterpiece of colonial mix and match. Its original owners were the Armenian Sarkies brothers. Its bar is named after an Aberdonian Colonel. It serves "English Pub Grub" and its own take on the Singapore Sling, but it will also do you a bowl of the world's best seafood soup to eat on the blindingly sunny verandah overlooking the Strait of Malacca. You end up not knowing which country you are in – but wanting never to have to leave it.
The hotel itself reeks of grandeur and fresh tropical flowers, with an imposing white façade and an echoing lobby the size of a football pitch that has parquet floors so polished that they beg to be skated on. Famous guests have included Noel Coward, Douglas Fairbanks, Rudyard Kipling, Somerset Maugham, Hermann Hesse and Mary Pickford – who we can see from pictures never quite did get over the hair-frizzing trauma of walking out of an air-conditioned bar and into the 100 per cent humidity of Georgetown.
Noel Coward, presumably, would have resolved that problem by staying put in Farquhar's bar, where he'd have sat languorously in a rattan chair sipping on an E&O Sling, watching a boy splash about in the glittering blue infinity pool and gazing sneerily out at the midday sun. Modern Englishmen will be inclined to follow his example.
Farquhar's Bar, The E&O hotel, PenangReuse content