Singaporean Sensation: A Review of the Six Senses Duxton
The Six Senses Duxton opened in Singapore last April and was the first of two Singapore hotels the Asian brand plans on opening there. The second, the Six Senses Maxwell, opened in December. During a recent visit to the city, I decided to spend one of my free nights there and check out how Six Senses is channeling the urban vibe.
I was in Singapore for a single night in October, but room rates at the Six Senses Duxton for the one I needed to book seemed to be average for the hotel in the fall.
The hotel’s rooms were divided into several categories that paid homage to the edifice’s past as a row of traditional shophouses purveying wares like spices … and other, more illicit, things. The smallest rooms, in the so-called Nutmeg category, were just 18 square meters (194 square feet). Those were going for $283 per night. Up from there, Shophouse rooms were around 250 square feet and $305 for the night of my stay.
The largest room category was the Opium Room, selling for $370 a night, while Opium Suites were $436.
The rates were part of an opening special that included 15% off normal rates, free breakfast and late checkout until 6pm.
Before I booked directly through Six Senses, I decided to look at MrandMrsSmith.com, another hotel booking site, and got the same rates, but with no breakfast and two cocktails per room included instead. I went with the Six Senses direct booking and used my Chase Sapphire Reserve to earn 3x points per dollar on the purchase.
The hotel was right in the heart of central Singapore in the city’s old Chinatown district, also called Tanjong Pagar. That put it about a 20-minute drive to the airport and about 15 minutes from the central ferry terminal where I arrived. The Central Business District was about five minutes by taxi, and Orchard Road was 10.
Duxton Road was also known as Jinrickshaw Place because of the rickshaw drivers who would park their vehicles by nearby Jinrikisha Station in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The area was home to opium dens, gambling rooms and brothels. In short, it was a slum.
On my visit, the area seemed a far cry from that vice-ridden past, with tidy, restored shops, cute boutiques and great cocktail bars, including the Tippling Club around the corner.
The façade of the Six Senses Duxton was composed of several former shophouses painted gray with green roof tiling, a beautiful stained-glass awning over the entrance and dramatically lit arched windows.
It was restored under the aegis of London-based designer and hotelier (and former Bond girl) Anouska Hempel, whose other hotel projects include The Hempel, The Franklin and Blake’s in London. Along with the soon-to-open Six Senses Maxwell, the Duxton will be among the last heritage hotels of this type to be developed in Singapore.
I arrived at the hotel at around 4:30pm, and before I was even out of the taxi, a bellman had taken my suitcase out of the trunk while a reception agent held my door open and welcomed me to the hotel. She walked me up the stairs to the lobby and asked me to have a seat on a sofa just inside the door.
The lobby was small, with several discreet seating areas where the staff performed individual check-in.
There was also a reception desk just off to the right.
The overall look was sort of like contemporary chinoiserie, with calligraphy wallpaper, pared-down black wooden screens, yellow silk upholstery and accents and decorative elements like ceramic apothecary jars.
The check-in agent came back to verify the details of my stay, and since the hotel was not full, they were happy to upgrade me to an Opium Room. Then she took me over to the elevator and up to the second floor, where my room was.
The hallway had interesting wallpaper, which was created from an 18th-century legal document from Hempel’s personal art collection.
The hotel had 49 guest rooms and suites, and because of the historic nature of the buildings, no two were exactly the same.
Mine looked sensual and sumptuous. I entered through a short hallway directly into the bedroom.
The bed was dressed in white linens with red accent pillows and a runner. The headboard was a fan-shaped black fabric fixture fitted against a wall of antiqued square mirrors.
I thought the organic Naturalmat fiber mattress was comfortable, and got a good night’s sleep.
To either side were black nightstands with vase-like lamps.
One had a rotary telephone and the TV remote. There were bedside plugs on both sides, too.
Separating the bedroom area from the living area were movable, black wooden screens. This part of the room held a small, black lacquer table with fresh fruit and the room compendium.
There were power outlets and controls for the lights.
Across from this was a credenza with a Nespresso machine, and both an electric kettle and a ceramic tea kettle. The in-room tea was sourced from the family-run Yixing Xuan Teahouse, just down the block, and included flavors such as pu-erh and jasmine green tea .
The view out the window was back over Duxton Street to the shophouses on the other side, which now included a 7-Eleven.
Because of the long, deep layout of the room and the single window, it was rather dark, no matter the time of day. Back across from the bed were the TV and two glass cabinets. One held a small closet.
The other was the minibar, with a pretty impressive selection of spirits and snacks such as dried mango. There were also complimentary tonics to either induce wakefulness or promote better sleep, with ingredients like snow chrysanthemum, amaranth and lavender.
The bathroom, dramatically clad in black stone, was large, but not my favorite layout.
The sink was basically one long basin with no counter space to lay out toiletries.
The hotel provided amenities including nail kit, comb and dental kits.
The bath was long and low, and you had to climb into it to turn on the shower, then dodge out of the way to avoid a spray of cold water.
The hotel provided Organic Pharmacy shampoo, conditioner and shower gel in large-format bottles to reduce waste.
Overall, I thought the room décor was bold and opulent, if a little much at times. Because of the historic architecture, it was also rather dark, and the bathroom, though dramatic, was not configured for ease of use. One thing I did love? The amenity kit provided at turndown included fun items like a brainteaser toy, coloring cards and pencils, nutmeg oil, a reusable shopping bag and balm.
The free Wi-Fi was fast and worked well throughout the hotel.
Food and Beverage
The lobby was composed of several sitting areas, including a small library and a cocktail bar that was probably my favorite of the public spaces.
The bar had gorgeous wall, overhead and backlit glass fixtures that created a cool turn-of-the-century ambience.
The signature cocktail was called the Escape to Kaifeng and was made with Tanqueray gin and a chrysanthemum infusion and was served with a yellow chrysanthemum flower garnish. I sampled the Kampong Kia Nai with Rebel Yell bourbon, pandan infusion, homemade almond syrup and coffee bitters. It was like a tropical Old Fashioned, and was delicious.
The hotel’s restaurant, Yellow Pot, was just beyond and served traditional Straits Chinese cuisine. There were a few larger dining areas and smaller rooms for private parties.
I decided to have dinner here, and the food was delicious, though I wished I’d had a few more people with me so I could try more of the dishes, which were meant to be shared family-style. I just got to sample a few things, including a delicious dish of fried lion’s mane mushrooms with avocado puree for 12 Singapore dollars ($8.75).
For my main, I had rice with roasted duck in a fermented bean-curd puree, and it was delicious: crispy skin, succulent meat and just the right balance of salty and sweet. It cost $34 Singapore dollars (about $25).
I came back for breakfast the next morning, since it was included in my stay, and had an excellent cappuccino and an omelet with chilli crab and steamed buns, which was delicious. If I’d had to order à la carte, it would have been $33 Singapore dollars ($25 USD).
The service at the hotel was fantastic. The front-desk staff was so attentive from check-in to checkout and happy to show me all around the hotel when I first arrived. The bartenders and waitstaff were equally enthusiastic and seemed genuinely proud to be working there.
One of the more unique amenities was that, as part of their stay, guests were invited to a complimentary 15-minute Chinese-medicine consultation provided just off the lobby by practitioners from a traditional clinic across the street.
The young woman who ran my session analyzed my pulse, asked me several questions about my general health and then suggested I drink cooling liquids and eat less raw food to calm my spleen. All in all, it was a fun, fascinating experience.
Given the lack of physical amenities at the hotel itself, such as a spa or gym (the spa will be shared with the Maxwell once it opens, and guests could use a nearby fitness center until then), Six Senses had curated an extensive selection of neighborhood-based excursions for guests.
There were suggested walking and cycling paths, outdoor yoga in a park, tea appreciation demonstrations at Yixing Xuan Teahouse and architectural tours of the iconic Pinnacle@Duxton housing development nearby.
In a city where many luxury hotels are part of corporate chains, the Six Senses Duxton is a distinct change of pace.
The opulent chinoiserie of the public spaces and rooms dovetails nicely with the historical architecture. The single restaurant serves delicious Singaporean-Chinese cuisine, and the bar program is innovative. Though the physical facilities are limited, the addition of the Six Senses Maxwell will put a new focus on spa offerings, while the hotel’s cultural excursions are innovative and feel plugged into Singapore’s heritage and character.
For travelers who want a high-end experience at a decent price without sacrificing local character or charm, the Six Senses Duxton should fit the bill.
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