Bitcoin is slowly but surely spreading through Asia's big cities via the international social scene. Now you can have a good night out in Beijing on digital cash.
The Cafe Bar 2nd Place is a small but funky venue in Beijing's Wudaokou neighbourhood, 10km from the city center and a popular hangout for students at several nearby universities. Last week, it made Chinese history by becoming the first bar known to accept payments in bitcoin.
"I did it to attract new customers and also for my own self study," said 'Rin', 2nd Place's Japanese proprietor. He opened the bar in June 2011, and it caters to the lunch and overnight crowds from Monday to Sunday.
As well as operating the bar, Rin has a business producing original brand bags.
News of bitcoin began to spread mainly through resident expats, with curious locals joining in to help spread the word. The Beijing Bitcoin meetup group has been holding its meetings at 2nd Place since around April 2013.
It was an American living in Beijing, Jake Smith, who convinced Rin of bitcoin's viability as an everyday payment option.
As well as organizing some Beijing Bitcoin meetups, Smith has already managed to convince a couple of other local businesses to accept it as well, such as IJustWannaBuy.com and entrepreneur hangout The Garage Cafe, though 2nd Place is the first bar.
He became more serious after buying some coins from a new roommate who was a miner, became hooked, and now works full time for BitFund.pe, a bitcoin-dominated private equity fund.
Smith said 2nd Place is one of his favorite watering holes in Beijing. He has been going there regularly for almost a year and talking to the bartender, Rin, about bitcoin.
"He was always apprehensive but curious, and as I started doing more and more interesting stuff (traveling for bitcoin related work, and getting a full time job in bitcoin space), I think he started to realize that bitcoin is actually serious business and began asking more and more questions about it."
He went on to say that, about a week ago, he visited the bar and without even mentioning bitcoin to Rin, he said he would like to start accepting the digital currency.
Rin's current arrangement for transforming his bitcoins into local currency is still a little more informal than other businesses who had to set up transfer procedures through BitPay or similar.
"Rin is still not a bitcoin user himself; we made an arrangement that he keeps track of the RMB value of the drinks paid for in bitcoin, and then I settle the bill with him and receive the BTC he's collected. But he checks out the BTC price every day now, and it's my hope that sooner rather than later, one day he'll tell me he doesn't want to sell me the BTC and just hold onto it instead."
Rin himself confessed to not knowing much about bitcoin or what could be done to increase recognition in other parts of China or Asia in general.
"To be honest I haven't dealt with bitcoin much yet myself so I don't entirely understand it. Some of our local customers are involved in bitcoin businesses. Awareness is increasing sharply around here," he said.
He has always been fairly bitcoin-friendly, and as well as hosting the meetups, he let Smith use 2nd Place outside business hours to film an interview with CCTV (China Television).
A local Beijing Reddit user 'wudaokor' is apparently spreading the word further by entering a 'Bitcoin Team' at local pizza restaurant and bar Lush/Pyro's pub quiz. Getting the bar to also start accepting bitcoin was next, wudaokor wrote.
"The more people that show up, the more oomph there is behind the message that accepting bitcoin can create business, so I'd like to get as many people to go as possible," he added.
(NB: the interview with Rin was conducted in Japanese; his responses have been translated into English.)