Hospitality Houses at the Olympic Games are big business with many of the countries getting involved to show off their culture, traditions, food, drink, and most importantly, athletes.
Houses popped up in a number of spots across Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 Olympics and most had big screens showing the best of the action featuring their countrymen and women as well as music, alcohol and the promise of victorious athletes.
There were 55 houses in all and I think I reached out to a large proportion of them. Some offered superstar DJs, Lego sculptures, virtual reality headsets and simulators, Santa Claus (during a summer break), an ice rink and St. Bernard Dogs. Some were invite only and others were open to all, so people could turn up at any times and check out what was on offer. A number of them also leave an Olympic legacy for Rio or Brazil in the form of something left behind or a financial donation.
Like most places, Friday and Saturday are big nights in Rio. However, with these hospitality houses, pretty much every night became a party night for locals, visitors and athletes (who had already competed).
Russia, Italy and USA had private houses only open to people that were invited or could show a passport for the country. I think this was quite excluding and almost against the spirit of The Games.
Before I even arrived in Rio, the boys had already tried to blag their way into the Russia House, saying they could drink like Russians so deserved to be let in. Security denied them unfortunately and it later turned out that the building had been robbed during the opening ceremony which could be the reason why they were unhappy about three drunk Brits turning up unannounced. They did have a great location just down the road from us in Clube dos Marimbas jutting out off the end of Copacabana beach.
Although I had left it late to contact many of the houses, my group and I were lucky to get some invites to some of the best ones going – Austria House, Holland Heineken House and Jamaica House all wanted us to come along and party.
We attempted British House on Super Saturday and went all the way there due to the website saying free entry. A random English guy at the Rugby Sevens matches had also told us we could walk in just by showing our British passports. We’d chosen the night of a private event so even with our best efforts we couldn’t get in (and found out the next day that Bradley Wiggins and others were inside having a great time).
We ended up sprinting down to the French Hospitality House, Club France. We had already tried to blag our way in after collecting our 100 metre final tickets, but we ended up paying for entry (around £9 each) to get in and see Mo Farah, Jessica Ennis-Hill, Greg Rutherford and Katarina Johnson-Thompson in action on the big screens. It was based in Sociedade Hípica Brasileira (the jockey club) and we had to queue to get in with mostly Brazilians wondering why English speakers were here.
Finally getting inside we joined another long queue to buy horrible lemon beer or stout beer from people that couldn’t speak English or French (only Portuguese). It was then we found out the worst news. They were not showing Athletics, but Badminton instead because a French lady was competing! I was happy for them but not with a big night of athletics! Every one of the many screens was showing the same.
We downed our drinks, grabbed a taxi and rushed home as our “Super Saturday” became more sh*tty than super.
My girlfriend provided rolling updates (at about 1am UK time) of Mo Farah’s race through WhatsApp with some helpful videos sent over the ocean. This happened to be the same night that Ryan Lochte and the American swimmers were blind drunk and fabricated a robbery after a night out at Club France for a birthday, so I guess you could call it fate that we left early.
We arranged to go along on Tuesday 16 August and we’d all been quite nervous after the rejection at British House. We got inside with no trouble at all and were given our press passes before being escorted into Austria House. Reality then hit us that we were in the VIP area with all of the Olympic Committee! We were all wearing shirts but did feel a bit out of place. People were having sit down meals so we decided to try and blend in somewhere near the bar and not get in the way. We soon found out that this was an open bar and got to work sampling the range of drinks on offer!
We spotted Dutch athlete Dorian van Rijsselberghe who had just won gold in the Windsurfing (RS:X) and was out for a party. A really nice guy (with possibly the best personal website I’ve seen) and he allowed us to touch his medal and lift him. He was a good lad and is a real character on Instagram!
I also found the Bronze medal Austrians, Tomas Zajac and Tanja Frank who had won their medals in the mixed Sailing (Nacra 17 for all the sailing experts) being photographed by the other members of the press with their giant professional cameras, so, being press I grabbed my shot too!
Outside we discovered DJ Instyle playing a set and the crowd of Brazilians who were fenced in and partying to some insane bass-heavy dance music! We were finally living the Hospitality House lifestyle and eventually all the non-VIPs had to leave.
We also found a photobooth and got our photos taken and emailed to us. It later turned out the machine had malfunctioned though and George ended up with a photo of Tanja Frank and her friends who had taken their photos before us! Somewhere out in Austria she must have had a shock to see a photo of us four British guys slightly worse for wear.
We got chatting to some of the Austrian Olympic Committee guys and they had the one drink we weren’t able to get at the bar – Champagne! So we ticked that off too and after wondering why British guys were in Austria House they also gave us some cool pin badges to take away.
A Conga line kicked off and we were right in the midst of it and I even got a photo with Tomas Zajac’s bronze medal draped around my neck. The great night ended with an apfelstrudel – hand served to my table by the waiting staff that had been shipped over from Austria for the Games.
Holland Heineken House
We’d heard so much about Holland Heineken House but had to see it for ourselves. In London they took over Alexandra Palace but in Rio their base was at Clube Monte Líbano. We wore our orange t-shirts and shorts ready to get into the Dutch spirit.
For €45 (more than I’d pay for pretty much any night out) you got all day access to the house that offered a giant 12 metre screen, chill out rooms, restaurants, a bakery and a nightclub as well as arenas to play street football and beach volleyball. There were even sports clinics on-site and they had a cry room for unsuccessful or happy athletes to let our their emotions, after initially coming up with the concept at one of their early Dutch Olympic Houses.
We arrived late in the evening and waited to see Bolt run his 200m semi final and win with ease before going in. Brazilians outside were getting flustered and trying to argue heir way into this sold out night. We strolled straight in and were given a quick tour of everything. Buying drinks involved a prepaid card topped up with cash, then swiping at the bar. Another queue for the cards.
The big attraction was the giant outdoor swimming pool and for your entry fee you got a whole day of swimming and deckchair access as well as the nightclub area. The pool was closed in the evenings but we were able to see Dafne Schippers get silver in the women’s 200m on the giant TV. There was also a cool terrace looking out over the place, and a space where Dutch medallists could come along and sign a wall to mark their achievements. Dorian had already been in a number of times apparently!
On the night we went were treated to a great set by superstar DJ and Dutchman, DJ Chuckie. We were partying with Brazilian locals and athletes from Holland, Canada and Australia – photos were even uploaded to Facebook. Previous nights saw performances from The Flexican and other Dutch DJs and musicians.
Having four Jamaican grandparents, I was really looking forward to seeing what the homeland would lay on. The closest I’ve been to the island is Barbados, but Jamaican blood is in my veins until I make that journey.
There were barely any actual Jamaicans there but we were told that the night was sold out (as was every night at Jamaica House) – so we were expecting a real good party. There were a few Americans as well as a few Brits. I spotted Croydon girl Nadia Rose as we walked in and she’d been performing over at British House with Logan Sama, Elf Kid and some other British rappers earlier in the week.
After we got in, we were again treated to a mini tour of the place. A few bars to choose from, screens, the DJ booth and some really cool chill-out spots. There were hammocks and even a cat strutting about. The Jamaican Tourist board had decorated the place with images of the island, its athletes and lots of tributes to Bob Marley (whose son Kymani had also performed here).
We saw Usain Bolt win the 200m final and the DJ belted out the DJ Bravo remix of “Champion” to huge cheers!
The heavy rain soon put a bit of a dampener on the night but we found shelter in a small building in the VIP corner and sampled some of the Appleton Rum that was on offer with juice and Red Bull – apparently the supplies of Red Stripe had already sold out. (It would have been one of the few places in Brazil which had pints available).
That night we were lucky enough to get a performance from Jamaican reggae artist Nature. He performed some of his own tracks as well as some great singalong reggae classics. I even got a CD to take away.
We also got to know Brazilian Dub artist Jota 3, who we chilled with for a bit. He had previously lived in Brixton so we chatted about London and life in Brazil and I’ve checked some of his music out online. He also introduced us to the man (I think called Don Cabeça) that apparently brought the reggae sound to Brazil many years ago.
We met another Brazilian musician with dreads who seemed to be pretty famous from all the people that recognised him and wanted to smoke weed with him as well as the fact that he had his own security guard, Shogun. He was a big man and he was the sort you wouldn’t want to be on the wrong side of. Very nice guy though.
Speaking to the DJs was the only time we met actual Jamaicans, but I didn’t manage to blag a Jamaica football shirt or meet Usain Bolt (although we were very close).
British House Rio
After initially being turned away from British House and my press request not going through in time, I’d managed to pull some strings with contacts back home to get us entry. After some initial worry we’d completed it and got through the security.
British House was in a grand building at Parque Lage which is a public park for the rest of the year. The mansion building was decked out with the colours of the Union Jack, images of the Queen and dedications to “The Greatest Ever Games”, London 2012. (Very different to the music video for Snoop Dogg’s ‘Beautiful’ with Pharrell Williams)
Once inside we didn’t spot any athletes or medal winners but we found a quiet spot with comfy chairs by the TV screens and helped ourselves to beer, wine and what we thought was cider (better than Strongbow who were sponsoring the fan houses back in London in any case).
For the first time in our two-week stay we were watching BBC coverage with English commentary following our home heroes.
We got to see Mo Farah boss his race as usual although it wasn’t the best night for our home nation with the 4x400m men getting disqualified and Lutalo Muhammad narrowly missing out on the Gold medal that also evaded him in 2012. A last-gasp head kick meant his Ivorian opponent Cheick Sallah Cissé took the win. You could see in the interviews just what it meant to him and for that brief moment, the whole of British House felt his pain too.
As well as the Grime music contingent performing, I’d seen that Chase and Status and dancers from the Royal Ballet had flown out and performed over the Games. Reggie Yates had also been filming some stuff up on the roof of the building too.
The signs and lights outside the building really gave the sense of pride and we left getting photos with the #LondonIsOpen and other signs.
We left British House in Rio having partied with people from around the world at houses and nightclubs out in Brazil, but there was always Lapa to give us the true Brazilian party…
– J –