Q&A with Nina Gunnell, proprietor of the world-famous Londoner pubNina Gunnell is one of the proprietors of Kitzbuehel’s world-famous Londoner pub, which hosts the biggest party in the sport every year on the night following the Hahnenkamm downhill. Only racers who have completed the course can get behind the bar and serve drinks; it’s been that way since 1976, when Gunnell’s father Rik (a Londoner himself) opened the pub. It is a cherished tradition that requires a lot of raw materials. This year Gunnell has ordered 140 kegs and 10,000 glasses for the weekend and employed a staff of 35, including nine bouncers. Ski Racing senior editor Nathaniel Vinton met with Gunnell this week to discuss the notorious event, which she says is ‘the party-party of playing, not the party-party of drinking.’
Ski Racing: Describe the Londoner.
Nina Gunnell: It’s called the great English pub. It looks like that, but there’s the atmosphere of a crazy American bar. My father founded it 30 years ago. It’s crazy, but secure, and a place where everyone can have as much fun as they want.
SR: Do you think Kitzbuehel’s party scene has gotten out of control?
NG: Television stations always try to put Kitzbuehel as a whole into a bad picture. It’s unfair. We have up to 100,000 people coming to Kitzbuehel in those three days, and we’re a place of 8,000 or so inhabitants, so I think we’re handling this all very well. Obviously there will always be some really drunk people. There will always be people who are going to fall asleep somewhere outside. And then those TV teams come here and they just pick out the bad spots, which is totally pulling it out of context, which happens to the athletes too.
SR: Is that part of the reason you don’t allow television cameras in the bar?
NG: I have to draw the line owning a place like that, especially because of the press. I don’t want to go against the press, because they’ll just start writing things about my place which aren’t right. But I want to protect my guests, so they come back â€¦ they all come because they know they can be in the pub completely relaxed, and they won’t have cameras and things on them all the time. It’s a very fine line, because you don’t want to offend the press, because that’s very important to us, and you don’t want to offend the ski racers.
SR: When did the tradition start?
NG: 1976. It was the year my dad opened the pub. It was the Canadians and Franz Klammer. He won the Olympics that year, and he also won on the Streif, and he came into the pub with the Canadians. The Crazy Canucks as they were called. They were crazy. I think in those days it was different and even worse. They were more free. They weren’t watched all the time. The race wasn’t that quick, with the equipment, and there wasn’t all this money involved. It was much more laid-back. There were only 10,000 people here. Thirty years later we’re 10 times as much. Two years ago we had 110 or 112,000 people over the three days.
SR: Daron Rahlves loves the Londoner tradition.
NG: When Daron won, all his fans were in the pub waiting for him, and they carried him across the whole bar on their hands. The whole bar, from the entrance to behind the bar. It’s those moments that are breathtaking. â€¦ The guys come to Kitzbuehel, which they see as being the way Monte Carlo is in Formula One. â€¦ At the beginning, that’s what they race for.
SR: Is the Londoner party misperceived?
NG: It’s not the party-party of drinking, it’s the party-party of playing. â€¦We make the rules a little looser. If you come down the Streif alive, you’re allowed to get behind the bar. Obviously if Kjetil Andre Aamodt is injured [and can’t race], or Luc Alphand and Daniel Mahrer [who are retired] come just for the party, obviously they can get behind the bar.
SR: You’ve said the racers are throwing the beer, not really drinking it.
NG: This is the night we can relax, because we’ve done the Streif, and we’re happy because this is the middle of the World Cup season, and the majority [of the downhills] are basically done and we all have this relief. I just don’t think it can be blown out of proportion that much, because if you look at it logically, ski racers can’t get drunk and go down a slope like the Streif.
SR: You’ve said Bode Miller comes in here in the summer, but doesn’t party on the Hahnenkamm night because he races slalom. What did you think of Bode Miller’s ’60 Minutes’ affair?
NG: I think it’s also come up because Bode Miller is somebody who talks exactly as he thinks in that moment. He’s just a direct person. He doesn’t think twice about what the consequences could be. He says, â€˜Here, this is my opinion, and this is what I’ll say.’ I actually appreciate people like that, in business and in private, because you always know. I think that’s the way he was brought up by his parents, and he’s been doing it all his life, it’s just now that he’s famous.