Medical writer Heidi Liou always wanted to see the inside of the Raffles Hotel, ever since she moved to Singapore from Germany six years ago.
"I would walk around the outside and take pictures like a tourist," said Ms Liou, 34. "But what I really wanted was to come inside and learn about its history."
She got her wish yesterday when her friend Shawn Tan, 29, won two places on an exclusive history tour of the hotel, as well as a private lesson on how to make the classic Singapore Sling cocktail.
The contest wraps up a year-long series of giveaways by The Straits Times (ST) to mark its 170th anniversary and thank readers for their support. It is the penultimate prize in a month that has seen readers win hotel staycations and Christmas dinners. The ST170 campaign has seen 190,000 entries since the beginning of the year, and the final prize - a holiday to Zanzibar - will be given out on Wednesday.
Mr Tan, who is doing a PhD in neuroscience, was one of five ST readers who got to go on yesterday's tour with their partners after answering a question at 1845.straitstimes.com.
The tour, led by the hotel's resident historian Leslie Danker, 76, is normally available only to hotel guests. It gives a glimpse into the building's opulent interiors, such as the Sir Stamford Raffles presidential suite where illustrious guests, such as the late pop star Michael Jackson, have spent the night.
The winners were also regaled with tales from the hotel's history by Mr Danker, who has been with the establishment for 43 years.
Most notably, he recounted how an escaped circus tiger got under the hotel's Bar and Billiard room in 1902. The staff had to summon the principal of Raffles Institution, a sharpshooter, who arrived in his pyjamas and shot the tiger.
National serviceman Gibson Chua, 25, said the vivid way that Mr Danker recounted history set this tour apart from others he has been on. "He himself is kind of a walking history; he is the personality of the hotel."
Mr Danker was moved to hear that more than 4,000 people had entered the contest. He said: "Most of those on my tour come from overseas. It is good to know locals are also interested in their national heritage, which the Raffles is an icon of."
He added: "The ST and Raffles Hotel have more in common than people know. They were both founded by Armenians in the 1800s, for instance."
Raffles Hotel was established by the Sarkies brothers, while merchant Catchick Moses bought a printing press off his cash-strapped friend and started the ST.
The winners also got to try their hand at making Singapore Slings in the hotel's Long Bar, where the cocktail was created a century ago by Hainanese bartender Ngiam Tong Boon.
During the class, which ordinarily costs at least $88 per head, participants worked up a sweat as they shook a mix of gin, pineapple juice and cherry liqueur to get the cocktail's signature head of froth.
Said Mr Tan: "I've tried the Singapore Sling elsewhere but it wasn't very good. This, however, is very full-flavoured. It's the first alcoholic drink I've ever made myself, so I feel very accomplished."