One of Sydney’s more ancient and traditional pubs is the unlikely place to be trialling one of the newest and most innovative technologies of the modern day.
Forget sleek, contemporary and stylish, The Old Fitzroy is as character-filled as they come and is now Australia’s first known pub to start accepting bitcoin.
Publican Garry Pasfield will start taking bitcoins at the bar from 29th September, at a launch event he is dubbing ‘Beer for Bitcoins.’
He made the decision to accept the currency after hearing so much about it from his brother, and learning about it from members of Sydney’s bitcoin meetup groups. He is now hoping to capitalise on the Sydney market by becoming the first bricks and mortar business in the city to take a virtual currency.
Located in the heart of the former working-class neighbourhood of Wooloomooloo, the pub is steeped in history and operates as a hotel as well as having a small theatre out the back.
“What that boils down to is that we have a good cross-section of the market,” Garry says, naming locals, young people, backpackers and post-work drinkers among the regular crowd. “We cater for people from 18 to 80 and we have a good opportunity with the tech-savvy youngsters,” he says.
Garry is no stranger to technology having already implemented a sophisticated, computerised payment and stock system, which he says some premises are only just beginning to adopt, and there is free wifi throughout the venue - invaluable when customers make their bitcoin transactions.
He has had help adapting the point of sale device to accept bitcoin, which will generate a QR code for customers to scan with their smartphone when they purchase drinks or food.
In conjunction with the bitcoin launch, people unfamiliar or interested in the currency will have the opportunity to buy it and try it from traders in the bar in a small Satoshi Square-style event. There will also be information about how to download a bitcoin wallet so that people can start using it on the day.
It is all in vast contrast to the way the pub presents itself, which Garry describes as having “a grunginess”. “People come here because it is small and old,” he says. He added:
“But progress doesn’t stop for anybody and I’m interested in bitcoin because it is progressive.”
The fact that “it is costing nothing to try it” also appeals to Garry. He will benefit from the relatively lower fees associated with taking bitcoin compared with credit cards as well.
“A lot of people will like the opportunity to steer away from the big banks and the fact these multinationals are taking over is irking a lot of people,” Garry told us. “I think [bitcoin] has a lot of legs if it can establish itself, and it is surprising that there is an opportunity to avoid the big four [banks].”
He will not, of course, be avoiding the taxman. The Australian Tax Office (ATO) has said it will continue to monitor bitcoin’s volatility and how widely it is accepted.
“We use data-matching and industry benchmarking to focus on businesses that may not be reporting all their income and these would similarly identify businesses that may be under-reporting income received via a bitcoin payment system,” an ATO spokesman said. “The value used by the buyer and the seller in these transactions needs to be identical and consistent with market prices.”
It might be an area the ATO has to start looking into more closely; The Old Fitzroy’s move is just one significant step in Sydney’s burgeoning bitcoin scene. Author of the new book, An Idiot’s Guide To Bitcoin, is Sydney artist Gustaf van Wyk, who will also be attending the pub’s launch event to talk about the technology and concepts surrounding the currency.
The bitcoin meetups are also growing in popularity. The Sydney Bitcoin Users Group meets each week at the cavernous lower floor bar of 1 Martin Place in the city, but seventy-strong group is proof that the community is going anywhere but underground. In fact, there are more than 130 members across the three bitcoin meetup groups hosted in the city.
The Australian chapter of the Bitcoin Foundation has been born from one such group, with nine members from all over Australia and across the world. Jason Williams, one of the organisers, says they share the same vision as that of the Foundation in the US: “To promote bitcoin and offer apolitical advice on a range of topics regarding bitcoin.”
Jon Matonis, executive director of the Bitcoin Foundation has welcomed the move. “Australia has been one of the early first-movers in organising local chapter efforts and they are considered a leader in the expansion of bitcoin globally. I look forward to engaging with the Sydney team in Australia,” he says.
It is not just in Sydney where bitcoin is taking hold. In a country of fewer than 23 million people, bitcoin groups have sprung up in almost every state capital, alongside two in New Zealand. The Melbourne community is also thriving. Bitcoin advocate, Dale Dickins, who has hosted Bitcoin for Beginners events in the city views Australia as a key player in bitcoin adoption.
“The number of people living in Australia with relatives overseas drives us to adopt new, inexpensive ways to connect with family. Until now there hasn’t been an inexpensive way to transfer money. From that perspective, I think Australians are responding favourably to virtual currency,” she says.
As if to back up her statement, she informs us that five of fifteen of the new Lamassu bitcoin ATMs being shipped globally, are heading to Australia.
Zach Harvey, CEO of Lamassu Inc. confirmed they are shipping several units down under. “We’re pretty excited about the interest in Australia, and it seems the regulators are more reasonable than in the US,” he says.