Welcome to our ‘Behind the Scenes of St Martin’ series where we talk to some of the fantastic people who help make this charming Trois Vallées resort work.
Here Helen Raemers, founder of The Alpine Club, chats to Lucy Chittenden, owner of The Piano Bar in the heart of the village.
LUCY THE BAR OWNER
Tell me about your bar! It’s called The Piano Bar, or P Bar for short, and it is a vaulted ceiling bar in the basement of a chalet building. We are tucked right behind the church, just 30 metres from the drag lift. We also own the chalet, Chalet Alice Velut, above the bar, which is split into five self-catered apartments that we let on a weekly basis.
When, officially, does The Piano Bar open and when does it close? It opens at 4pm each day and closes at 1am every morning.
Any late nights? We rarely close later than 1am. We really have to look after our guests upstairs in the apartments and make sure there is no noise disturbance. We close later on New Year’s Eve, of course, and perhaps at the end of the season when we throw a big party.
When are the best/noisiest/liveliest times to go? The best time to go depends on what you want! If you want to listen to some live music, which makes an après ski drink great fun, then you need to come in the afternoons, as we often have live musicians playing during that slot, from 5pm – 7pm (approx 3 times per week). We don’t host live music after dinnertime as we have guests upstairs staying in the apartments and accommodation all around us.
Surprisingly enough, on a ski holiday, some people do actually want to go to sleep at a decent hour to be fresh for the following day, so we do all that we can to ensure that the bar does not disturb anybody after bedtime. The bar is lovely after dinner, however; very cosy and charming with the log fire roaring and lots of candlelight. But it’s a fun and very social place to be whatever the hour. During the busy holiday periods, the bar is just crazy during the après ski hour; music and hundreds of people and great, great fun.
Do people dance there or just drink? Wherever and whenever there is music, one can dance! People are regularly to be seen dancing at the P Bar during the ‘après’ hour.
So what made you come to St Martin de Belleville? I came because I took a giant leap of faith. My life reached a cross-roads through circumstance one day. I spent some time living in Australia wondering what plans I should make and during that time my elder brother found The Piano Bar and Chalet Alice Velut, which were both for sale. We made a ridiculously insane but brilliant decision, and bought it with some friends, one of whom has had a chalet in Saint Martin for almost 17 years. Many of course thought we were crazy, but it seemed to make perfect sense to come back to France and to the mountains (I had done three ski seasons in France before as well as managing a Chateau in Burgundy).
What made you open a bar there? The bar and the apartments were already a business when we bought it. It was constructed in the late 80’s and had two previous owners prior to us.
Describe a day in the life of a bar owner in the Alps! A day in the life of? It very much largely depends on which day of the week!!! No day is ever the same, but every Saturday is a changeover day and during the week there is at least one day of shopping to be done for supplies down the valley and one day of administration to be done. BUT the bar opens at 4pm whatever the day. This means rushing back from whatever the day has offered, opening up a cold bar and getting it warm and lighting the fire before opening hour at 4pm. From 4pm till 1am, the job involves serving drinks and finding out about all our punters’ ski days and managing their alcohol intake in the most appropriate way until 1am each morning.
A typical ski day is cranking the eyes open at about 9am after a 3am to bed, peeping through the curtains to check out the weather and if it’s a sunny day rushing out as quickly as possible to catch the first available lift, whizzing around the mountain like a crazy nut for the rest of the day, squeezing a delightful lunch in wherever and whenever possible, irresponsibly checking all emails and phone messages and doing necessary administration during all the lift ascents (trying not to lose the mobile phone or a glove whilst doing so!!!) and then rushing to get back in time to hop in a shower and dry one’s hair before rushing to get the bar ready, lighting the fire and lugging in any deliveries that have arrived that day.
A typical NON ski day would be a changeover day, for example. This involves an 8am start after a 3am to bed and rushing to the apartments to wave goodbye to our leaving guests and getting ready for the new ones. Six hours of deep cleaning the apartments, sorting linen, changing light bulbs and re-supplying all stocks, again on a stop-watch in time to open the bar up again at 4pm. There are three people in my team all winter; me plus just two others.
To summarise, each and every day involves an incredible amount of rushing and whizzing around and occasionally finding the time to feed oneself. I say goodbye to my couch and my UK family on 1st December, and say hello to them both again on 1st May.
What do you love about your job? I love the variety, the people, the fresh air, the changeability, the atmosphere, the positive attitude of everyone, the joy, the opportunity to ski, the opportunity to meet each week some really great and interesting people, the upbeat attitude of people, the adrenalin, being so busy that you don’t notice that you haven’t worn a pair of high heels for months (years maybe!?!), the air, the stunning skies and the stunning views, the vitality and in terms of the chalet the fact that you can provide such a wonderful location from which people can have such an incredible time. I also LOVE where this bar and apartments are. St Martin is stunning in both summer and winter, and we are lucky enough to be able to enjoy both.
What do you not like about it? The need to survive on not much sleep. Not ever being able to host Christmas. Never getting to watch the Strictly Come Dancing final, lots of toilet cleaning, and not a lot of occasion to dress up. But it’s all a small price to pay; it’s a pretty lovely life, to be honest.
Any particularly funny memories of great nights from the past? There are so many at the P Bar. We have such an eclectic bunch of clients that there have been so many lively and joyful and entertaining evenings. You can never beat an impromptu live music performance. Last year we had a guest band play who were guests staying at a chalet in a neighboring resort. They came to play (a double act) in the P Bar and another punter whom they did not know suddenly got on our piano and started playing and singing alongside them. Then a local nipped home and came back with his guitar. A totally impromptu class act. Brilliant.
Then we have nights where the lovely Ken, an English bloke who has a chalet round the corner, will start his party games in the bar and has everyone bending over in funny positions competing to pick up a torn cornflake packet with their mouth while not allowing their knees or hands to touch the floor.
Every night is different, and the resort attracts such lovely people who are more often than not just incredibly good fun.
Anything else? Something to note particularly is just how eclectic the mix of people can be that come to St Martin de Belleville. It is honestly a joy and a big perk of my job that most of these people come to the P Bar at some point or other during their stay. St Martin seems to draw an incredibly interesting mix of clients, mostly all incredibly lovely, and we get to meet fantastic people with all sorts of different backgrounds and livelihoods that we would otherwise not get to meet.
If you’re in resort, don’t miss a drink and a dance at Lucy’s Piano Bar. The phone number is +33 679 80 35 76 (cell) or +33 479 089780 (France) and you can check out her apartments here: www.chaletalicevelut.com