The Olympic Parties Where You Can Secretly Hang Out with Medal-Winning Athletes
For the at-home viewer, the fun of the Olympics comes in two forms: watching world-class athletes push the limits of the human body, and cheering on your country(wo)men as they go for gold. But for those in attendance -- both athletes and plebes -- there's more to the games than just the games. Of course, we're talking about partying.
While stories about endless supplies of condoms make the Olympic Village sound like a five-ringed sex bonanza, it's not exactly an ideal setting for romance. Hell, the college dorm setup led to an Olympic diving duo to break up after one half needed the room all night while an Olympic canoer rocked her boat.
Unfortunately, normals like you can't get into the Olympic Village to see if an athlete will light your torch. But places do exist where gods and mortals mingle: namely, international hospitality houses, or giant party centers organized nationally to cheer on a country's athletes. And, of course, to party.
As the Wall Street Journal reported, during the 2012 Olympics, more than 50 national hospitality houses dotted London. For the 2016 Olympics, some 35 houses populate Rio, but not all are created equal. Some allow athletes only, while others charge a small fee and are open to the public.
The oldest, and among the biggest, is the Holland Heineken House. First launched at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, the HHH has grown throughout the years into its own Olympic universe for the duration of the games. Within the HHH Rio's 100,000sqft, you'll find a pool with a 39ft x 23ft TV broadcasting Dutch athletes whenever they're competing; multiple bars with plenty of Heineken on tap (they're a sponsor, duh); and more importantly, the opportunity to rub your this-worldly elbows with whatever stardust Olympians' elbows are molded from.
Every night, Dutch medal winners come back to the HHH, where the dance music pauses for them to receive an engraved plaque, which then lays into a walk of fame recognizing medalists from all Olympics -- a hall-of-fame floor, of sorts.
But after the ceremony, the floor transforms back into a club dancefloor until 1 a.m. More importantly, many of the athletes stick around for the party -- after winning their silver in Quadruple Sculls, for example, the quartet of Chantal Achterberg, Nicole Beukers, Carline Bouw, and Inge Janssen rollicked with the crowd until close -- and even leapt up to the DJ booth for song requests. You get to do that kind of stuff when you're wearing medals that'd make Flavor Flav speak in coherent tongues.
Fortunately, you need not be a world-class athlete, or even Dutch, to enter. You've just gotta have $51 (€45), a valid passport, and the verve to keep up with the throngs of Oranje (Dutch people). Though the place fits 4,000 people daily, and tickets sell out, it's still among your best chances to get up close to an Olympic medalist -- and probably party with one, too.
Not every house functions quite the same way, of course. For example, the Canada House sits adjacent to the HHH, but the Mounties over there will stop you at the border; it's for athletes only. Likewise, the US House is an elitist operation for only Olympians. That leads to US athletes partying elsewhere -- sometimes, to their own detriment, in the case of one bleach-blonde American medalist.
As time passes, the hospitality houses are turning into something of an arms race, too. For example, Portugal set up its house inside a Portuguese naval ship, the Sagres, built in 1937, while the British House occupies what's essentially a castle at the foot of Christ the Redeemer. How very imperialistic of them.
The point is, however, that many countries have leveraged the Olympics into a place to promote their culture -- doing so inside the hospitality houses. Already, the Japanese hospitality house in Rio's called the Tokyo 2020 Japan House, so named to promote the next edition of the Summer Games in -- guess where! -- Tokyo. That one grants free admission, but clearly to spread the word about how great Tokyo is, and how great the 2020 games will be. And how great houses are.
What exactly the hospitality house arms race will produce in four years' time remains to be seen. But if nothing else, the Olympics prove competition breeds excellence -- and that goes for the parties, too.
Ryan Craggs is Thrillist's Senior News Editor. He spent 20 hours on planes and 60 hours in Rio for the Olympics. Follow him @ryanrcraggs.