Did you know that several of the countries that compete in the Olympics open up hospitality houses? The houses try to create an environment that feels like home for the athletes and their families, with everything from large screen TVs tuned to the Games, bars, local food, free phone calls back home, and nightly celebrations for the day’s winners. Typically, parts of the houses are open to the public for free or a nominal fee, while others are only available for athletes and their friends and family. The houses themselves have become a sort of competition amongst the countries as to who can top the others (yes, sort of crazy with today’s economy).
On a tube ride back from an athletics event at the Olympic Stadium I was asked for directions. It turned out that I was assisting a member of the French Parliament who was a hotel and airline enthusiast! He told me how nice the French house (Club France) was and that he could try to get me inside. Here’s what the Guardian had to say about the French house – The French house is perhaps the most splendid – the Old Billingsgate Market on the Thames transformed into Club France, hosting the largest, although temporary, French restaurant in London, as well as screens, activities and a river-facing terrace. I took him up on his offer and we proceeded to Club France. The line outside was enormous as French citizens lined up to pay ?40 to get inside (admission is only ?5 prior to the nightclub conversion at 7pm). Admission gets you into the first level of Club France which includes several sponsor areas, two cash bars, and the main stage where the winners of the day are interviewed and celebrated. A rotating live band takes to the stage after the celebration and a DJ comes on late night.
After some convincing my chaperone was able to get me inside for free, though my badge would only allow me access to the first floor public area. He decided to push the envelope a little more and pressed for VIP access to the private dinner and wine service downstairs. Of course as we scanned my badge an alarm when off indicating that I was not allowed into the cellar. After some further parliamentary backed negotiations, I was allowed to proceed and without the ?299 guest fee! Boy, was I happy that I didn’t eat too much at the stadium. I was informed that the Chef was brought in directly from Paris and normally caters all state events. A choice of wines was provided by our waitress and a bottle of each of our selections was placed on the table along with sparkling and still water and champagne. The food was absolutely fantastic as was the service. I’m not a dessert person but I had the best creme brulee of my life and a great raspberry dish and lemon tart. The cellar area was nicely designed as well and it got crazy when the Olympians arrived. They each took one of the longer tables with family and friends and posed for pictures and received congratulatory hugs.
After a two hour dinner we headed back upstairs for the on-stage medal celebration followed by the live band. When the DJ came on stage we pressed our luck one last time and headed upstairs to the VIP bottle service area. The area is reserved for Olympians and VIPs and had three separate bars and table service overlooking the stage and the DJ performance.
The French definitely know how to party and do a hospitality house right, even the mobile network changed to local carrier Orange inside. Not a bad night for giving some travel advice on the tube!
Up next…. USA House, not an easy house to get into…even for an American