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Six Senses Launched in Singapore and It’s a Stunner


Known for its off-the-beaten path resorts, Six Senses has made a splash in Singapore with its first city hotel. Jeninne Lee-St. John settles in to the row of converted shophouses, where she finds the brand’s culture of spa and sustainability is alive as ever. Photographed by SCOTT A. WOODQARD

Published on Aug 28, 2018

 


A new face for Six Senses, on Duxton Road in Singapore.

In the pre dawn, groggy and grumpy immediately after a 10- hour red eye, turns out that the Six Senses Duxton is the exact place you want to check in to. Pull up in front of this pretty façade on a lane off Tanjong Pagar under the inky sky and enter under the stained glass awning through the wrought iron glass doors. No need to adjust your eyes to too-bright lobby lighting—inside’s dark, moody vibe befitting this early morn is a function of the all-black canvas with pops of yellow. Yep, black and yellow. That you’re not awash in a tropical sorbet palate is the first sign of departure from their barefoot luxury resorts. As this Singapore boutique is the first ever Six Senses in a city, a few more aesthetic adjustments are in store.

Checking in is a barely noticed breeze, though a glance down the photogenic main hallway (mental note: later position yourself in front of that wall of lacquer vases) has you locking eyes with a waitress setting up for breakfast, which starts at 6, which is not yet. “Oh, you’re the one we’ve been expecting,” she says smiling. “How was your flight? May I get you some coffee or tea?” Indeed, you may, let me just pop to my room to freshen up. As you’re heading up a black flight of stairs to your black and bamboo room, the feeling is nothing so much like a hotel as one of those next-gen condo buildings, where the sleek apartments prioritize efficient use of space over an abundance of it, where there are communal areas for working, meeting, eating and drinking, where you feel pretty chuffed about living because wow does this place show off just how much style you have. 

The 49-room hotel is in eight restored shophouses that used to be The Duxton Hotel in a sweet, low-rise, heritage district. The award winning makeover was a fitting job for designer Anouska Hempel, the London boutique-hotel pioneer who opened Blakes in a converted South Kensington townhouse 40 years ago. Hempel was also a Bond girl, and boy does this little property have sex appeal: four-poster beds, Chinese screens, cloisters and shutters and all that dominating black. Thatched roof pool villas the rooms are not, but Six Senses devotees will recognize all the brand’s signature tenets—sustainability, social conscience, wellness, conviviality—coursing throughout. For a taste of what this means in an urban space, take the in-room drinks. There are small-batch (but largesized) local liquors in the mirrored, already-most-Instagrammed minibar in Singapore; and, in the fridge, complimentary handblended healthy tonics created by traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) physicians whose office across the street makes it easy for them to conduct consultations at the hotel. Indulgence and temperance, modern and ancient, yin and yang. 


Eight little shophouses all in a row.


Yellow Pot bar features an antique stained glass ceiling.

There are eight room categories, and no two rooms are exactly alike. Two suites built on air shafts have sky-lit lounges, nine duplexes boast spiral staircases, and in one suite the bed seemed to take up 90 percent of the bedroom, reminding me of a romantic little pied-à-terre I once rented in Paris. Duxton Road is a narrow laneway, and rooms on the front of the three-story building are basically in the street. Windows are sound-proofed, but if you open the shutters, you could probably read the lips of someone standing across the way. I’d call that a good thing: with this full immersion in local life, it’s no chore to descend from your plush pad to run errands,or head to a class up at CruCycle, which offers Six Senses guests discount sessions. 


Front-desk manager Miguel Gamboa offers a singaing-bowl bath upon check-in.


Day one, I had a super early breakfast—the à la carte menu is diverse and smartly curated; I bookended each morning with homemade açaí yogurt, and a basket of thin-skinned har gow—then a nap. At 1 p.m., I was in a window seat in the lobby (the treatment room was not yet complete on my visit), with 83-year-old Physician Goh Toh Jiam asking me extremely personal questions via a translator, his congenial pharmacist, Sharon Tham. Whenever Eastern medicine practitioners feel my pulse and issue grand pronouncements about my humours, I have competing urges to roll my eyes, and to change every single thing about my life. It’s hard to resist the soft-spoken rationality of Goh, who has been practicing TCM for half a century, which says a lot in Singapore where the government actively tries to keep things pure. The Practitioner’s Board only accepts degrees from two local colleges or eight approved ones in China, and prohibits doctors from mixing treatments—besides herbs, TCM uses ground ingredients like sand, crystals, sandalwood, agarwood and copper—with Western medicines or antibiotics. 


Physicians Goh Toh Jiam and Zhang Mao Ji.

“Western medicine tries to eliminate the problem,” Professor Zhang Mao Ji, one of Goh’s partners, said when he ambled up to join my now quite public diagnosis. “TCM is about balance. You can live with the problem if you contain it. It’s about stabilizing the body, strengthening immunity so your body can do its own work.” To help circulation of my chi, Goh said I needed to focus on my kidney, liver and digestive systems. But in TCM, a condition is never fixed—nor is the solution. Your body is affected, Zhang said, by the time of day, the season, astrology, your location, so doctors might suggest different foods or medicines based on those factors. Jetlag is a good example—“your organs are not functioning at the right time,” Goh said—so he prescribed me pills to take before, during and after my next long-haul. Likewise the anti-hangover pills, filled with detoxicants to line the liver, are meant to be downed pre and post-alcohol consumption. 

Any doctor who gives me meds to make drinking easier is a hero. Especially in this hotel, where the seductive Art Deco bar under an antique, golden stained-glass ceiling beckons. The neighboring Keong Saik district is a hotspot (see: Neon Pigeon and Potato Head Singapore), and within this little Duxton enclave are temptations aplenty, including cocktail-culture standard-bearer The Tippling Club, Mexican garden party Lucha Loco, lobster shack Pince and Pints, and new French bistro and wine temple Ma Cuisine, with a vintage port cave to die for. 


Craft your own cocktail in the minibar.


The Pearl Suite breaks with the hotel's dominant gold and black.

Tea is a less intoxicating beverage, but its devotees no less fervent. This I learned on a visit to nearby Yixing Xuan Teahouse, which provides the hotel’s teas and where founder Vincent Low walked me through the 4,000-year history of tea, and explained the differences among the varietals. (Pu’er cakes are the only tea that gets better over time; white is three times healthier than green, is known as spring tea because it “comes to life like a newborn baby” at the end of April, and its three classifications are based on which buds you pick.) The two-hour chat was lubricated by a traditional tea ceremony and punctuated by his own imbibing aphorisms: “Always remember that China is the home of tea. Not Japan,” and “Adding milk and sugar is always completely wrong.” 

Low was like your favorite harrumphing old guy neighbor, and Duxton Hill is a patch of proper neighborhood Singapore: small, strollable, quiet and cozy. It felt so natural to take a quick walk to a piece of public park for a private yoga session with Su Sze from Life Blossoms, the hotel’s designated Zen maestro. Birds chirped in the shady tree above and the hum of the singing bowl slowed time. I felt as at home lying in that patch of grass as I did working on my computer at the communal table in the main hall of the hotel—or, even, as I did chilling outside in a bathrobe. Let me pause a second in praise of their bathrobes: Six Senses has stocked up on insanely light, fluffy, reverse stitching, hoodie bathrobes from über-eco The Madison Collection, which sends a water filter to a Haitian or Dominican family for every purchase. Clearly I needed to document my sporting one outside the sunny hotel entrance, and front desk manager Miguel Gamboa was a game photographer, who at the same time greeted passersby gawking at the new addition to the ’hood.


Energizing morning yoga.

I’d say the sense of community will only increase when sister hotel Six Senses Maxwell opens in a few months. Less than a 10-minute walk away, the larger, double-wide row of converted shophouses will contain the joint property’s spa and outdoor pool. Til then, though, you can find me on Duxton’s long, front portico, in my bathrobe, listening to the echo of newly arrived guests standing in singing bowls getting their welcome gong baths, and sipping my yuzu martini. Right after I pop six of Physician Goh’s anti-hangover pills, of course.

 

 

 

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