Olympics: Where to Find American Fans and Athletes in London

Yahoo! Contributor
Visit Britain

When it comes to experiencing the biggest Olympic events, nothing beats chanting "USA!" along with hundreds of fellow Americans. But red, white and blue flags in London are just as likely to represent Australia, France, Chile, Britain or even North Korea, which means you might have to search a bit to find your countrymen.

Here are the best places in London to find others cheering for Michael Phelps, LeBron James, Hope Solo and the rest of Team USA.

A royal rendezvous

Like many countries attending the London 2012 Games, the United States has its very own national headquarters in London. USA House is located in the Royal College of Art, next to the historic Royal Albert Hall concert venue at Hyde Park.

Inside, big screens are broadcasting all the action live, and there's a Budweiser Bar and McDonald's Coffee Bar on hand to keep VIPs fueled. Medalists and their families are making surprise appearances, a shop is selling Team USA merchandise and children get interactive sporting demonstrations.

If all that sounds almost better than seeing the events live, get ready for some serious sticker shock. Public access is limited to major donors splashing out $10,000 or more on hospitality packages that include tickets to the Games and chances to meet Olympic athletes. If you know someone with full access to the House, that person can buy daily guest passes for a less stratospheric $200.

Best view, bar none

For all the hundreds of US-style bars and restaurants in London, only a handful attract more Americans than locals. Bodean's BBQ Smoke House has four branches around the city, all serving frosty beers, slow-smoked ribs and big-screen American sports.

Another safe bet is the Texas Embassy Cantina, just off Trafalgar Square. The Tex-Mex menu is nothing to yeehaw about, but head upstairs to the sports bar and you could be hanging out in a cozy pub in Houston — except the air conditioning is nowhere near as fierce.

If you find yourself in Chelsea, the Big Easy Bar.B.Q & Crabshack lures expats with HD sports and massive helpings of surf and turf, while All Star Lanes makes a good effort at duplicating an all-American bowling alley, complete with sloppy burgers and cheap drinks. There are four All Star Lanes around town, including one at the Westfield mall in Stratford, just minutes from the Olympic park.

For those seeking something a little classier, the American Bar at the Savoy serves classic cocktails in 1920s style. There aren't any TVs here, high-def or otherwise, but if the live pianist isn't playing, you could ask the bartender to tune in the wireless while you sip a Manhattan.

Travel the world

But Americans didn't travel all the way to London just to pretend they were in New York. If a ticket to USA House is out of your budget, why not visit other national houses that have popped up for the Games? You'll find a warm welcome, an international party atmosphere and (usually) free entry — no visa required.

* Casa Brazil: Rio is hosting the Summer Games in 2016, so get ready with sexy samba, spicy street art and just a splash of cachaça in the fabulous Somerset House overlooking the Thames.

* Africa Village: Take a whistle-stop tour of all 53 African countries in Kensington Park — just a hop, skip and a jump from USA House. You'll find traditional music, delicious African street food and appearances by medal winners every evening.

* House of Switzerland: Thousands of gallons of red paint transformed Southbank's Glaziers Hall into an eye-popping celebration of all things Swiss (and yes, that does mean free fondue). Expect especially enthusiastic yodeling on Swiss National Day, August 1.

* Jamaica House: Ride the new Emirates Air Line tram over the Thames to the O2 arena and you can touch down in Jamaica minutes after leaving Olympic Park. Jamaica House offers a taste of island food and drink, while the O2 hosts dozens of "local" bands including Damien Marley, Jimmy Cliff and Toots and the Maytals.

Don't forget the BT London Live big screens where you can watch the Olympics, listen to live music and enjoy attractions — most of them free — in the company of thousands of people from all over the world. Find the big screens in Hyde Park, Victoria Park and Trafalgar Square.

By Mark Harris