Tucked away on a quiet street in Berlin’s Kreuzberg district, Room 77 had the look of your typical dive bar – until you paid attention to the details.
If you did, you’d notice the grungy scene was punctuated with cypherpunk paraphernalia. One brick wall overlooking a row of booths was populated by the portraits of Ross Ulrbicht, Edward Snowden and Julian Assange. Adjacent to these crypto-anarchy icons, a currency burner (which does exactly what you think it does) sat where an arcade game might have in any other bar.
Above the register, at a bar with five or so seats, was a friendly reminder to its clientele to “stop paying from Coinbase, Gemini, Bitstamp,” and other such cryptocurrency exchanges.
And, of course, the biggest tell that this bar was different: Next to the chalked-up menu framing its entrance, right smack next to its advert for the “Best f**king burger in town,” a bright orange neon orb glowed in the window, emblazoned with the letter ₿.
Room 77 (so named for the house’s street number) was a place of legendary significance among bitcoiners as the first venue in the world to accept bitcoin (BTC) as payment in 2011. Adorned by an eclectic array of couches, booths, barstools and loveseats for lounging, the snug joint was the San Remo of the European bitcoin scene, frequented for meetups, conference drink-ups and the like for Bitcoiners from Germany and abroad.
It weathered two bear markets, but with a nightlife economy suffocated by COVID-19, its management has decided “its time has come” and that the bar is closing down.
“And that’s OK,” Joerg Platzer told CoinDesk over DM, punctuating the reply with a smile emoticon.
From pet project to crypto mecca
Room 77’s owner isn’t too torn up about the bar’s closure. After all, Platzer, a self-described early cypherpunk who co-runs an augmented reality venture and also works as a consultant, always treated Room 77 like “a fun side project,” one that started well before Satoshi Nakamoto had even drafted Bitcoin – and was meant to close down before the cryptocurrency launched.
“We opened it 15 years ago as a fun project because it was dirt cheap to do so back then in the rundown neighborhood, and it was possible to have loud and wild parties,” Platzer said.
“We thought we'd run it for a year or two.”
But then the bar blew up. Eventually, it ranked as one of the top-five nightlife destinations in Berlin, Platzer said. Then, Bitcoin came along and the bacchanalian brick shack doubled as a hotspot for Bitcoin’s earliest acolytes.
Around this time, with Bitcoin only a few years old, Room 77 was perhaps the only place in the world where tinkerers could set up shop and test point-of-sale software. It was certainly the only place where enthusiasts could buy a pint (or the best f**king burger in town) with their bitcoin.
Room 77 became known as the "Bitcoin bar," and the dive, now open four or so years longer than its owner originally anticipated, had another reason to stay open. In the early days it was because they were killing it. As the 2010s were underway, it was because the place had become an intellectual and culture bulwark for a burgeoning community.
“Room 77 was a very unique place. Not only did it provide many Bitcoiners with beers and burgers (for many, their first purchase with the magic Internet money in real life), but it also provided tons of mental nourishment for a whole generation of Bitcoiners. Countless ideas were born here, some drowned again in rum and whiskey, but many made it through the boozy nights,” Gallas told CoinDesk.
Since Platzer first served Gallas that pilsner for bitcoin in May of 2011, the bar’s significance among Bitcoiners has only grown. It hosted Germany’s first bitcoin ATM and its longest-running Bitcoin meetup.
On the nights of Bitcoin conferences in Berlin, Room 77’s janused identities – grungy nightclub and Bitcoiner lodestone – fuse into one, as the bar becomes a swimming mass of bodies hopped up on beer and the future of money.
Unfortunately, this same essence – the sweaty, jam-packed, “who’s that brushing against me” nightclub vibe – is why Room 77 can’t survive nightlife in a time of COVID-19 under Germany’s rules, Platzer told CoinDesk. He decided to suspend the bar’s operations on March 7, a couple of weeks before Germany would make closing all bars and restaurants mandatory.
With no end to COVID-19’s “new normal” in sight, Platzer made the decision recently to shutter the bar for good.
“COVID will make it impossible to run a place like that, at least throughout 2021. If you ever were at one of our meetups you know how absolutely impossible it is to even try to keep people socially distanced,” he said.
Besides slashing the bar’s revenue, abiding by the rules would take away the magic of the place (and wouldn’t be very cypherpunk anyway). What’s more, the neighborhood is a lot nicer than when Platzer opened the dive in 2005. Gentrification’s grip is tightening, and the building Room 77 sits in is due for renovations, Platzer said, which would send the bar’s rent up “like crazy.”
So now it’s time for the bar to move on. “It did its thing for Bitcoin when Bitcoin needed it,” as Platzer put it.
That time was when bitcoin was trading at $1. Now, one bitcoin is worth $11,800. In Platzer’s own words, “It is clear by now that nobody will stop Bitcoin anymore.”
So as Room 77 ends, at least it’s going out on a high note, at a time when Bitcoin is enjoying more public attention than ever.