Amid the seemingly nonstop flow of wild events in 2020, including the COVID-19 pandemic, the start of the next bitcoin bull run and copycat bacon cheeseburger token scams (more on that later), the legendary Room77 has now officially closed for good. The Room77 was the first brick-and-mortar business to accept bitcoin. You could pay for your drinks, burgers and for a slightly overpriced hot chocolate (more on that later, too).
I would visit the “Room” several times a year while visiting Berlin and have probably paid for some — now quite expensive — burgers and drinks. Sometimes I would go early if a friend of mine was working the bar and watch the place slowly fill up.
Many saw this closure coming, but did not want to accept the cold, hard truth and instead dreamt of better times, when warm beer, cold women and fast food made slow could be found at Graefestraße 77 Berlin. While many others were surprised, we all will have to come to terms with the reality of a world without Room77. But a few questions remain including: Where will people be able to buy beer, rum and burgers with bitcoin? Did Room77 go anywhere? And what was Room77 anyway?
Does Moore’s Law Apply To Gentrification?
In a time before Bitcoin, a time before blockchain devs flocked to the cheap flats and office spaces of the former East Berlin, Room77 was launched into eternity.
In those dark ages, Berlin tourist bus drivers did not want to stop in the hood of Kreuzburg out of fear that their curious tourists might go the wrong way, or that the rims of the bus would be quickly removed and recycled at a nearby junk dealer. Just down the Graefestrasse, in Room77, musicians were joining into jam sessions, people were drinking cold drinks and a good time was being had by all. There were little to no problems with the Office of Administration keeping order (ordungsamt) and the noise down, as opposed to a pre-pandemic clamp down on a nearby Jazz Night that was happening every Sunday.
As more people flocked to Berlin, however, interest rates became negative, rent prices mooned just like the bitcoin price and gentrification slowly but surely crept into Kreuzburg as surely as Moore’s Law guides the semiconductor industry. That didn’t stop people from going to Room though.
Are You Going To The Meetup Or The Meetup?
There was the monthly “Bitcoin Stammtisch” (Bitcoin Meetup) at Room77, which was, at times, very full, depending on the bitcoin price. These were not meetups with speakers and PowerPoint presentations, but rather people talking freely and having a good time.
These were the nights when random noobs would show up and wonder aloud if this was the secret bitcoin cabal and how they could join. Where can they buy bitcoin, they would ask. Is it safe? Will the price go up? How do I store my bitcoin? What about litecoin, monero, bitcoin cash and dash?
Not only would your typical, 18-year-old, college-attending, streetwise Kreuzberg hoodwink or local dominatrix show up to ask their questions to people at the bar, but reporters from a variety of media outlets would also use the meetup as a convenient source for info related to Bitcoin.
This led to the somewhat secret development of the “unofficial” meetup being held on the second week of the month. Time for the O.G. regulars to talk to each other without the sometimes-hassle of explaining to reporters what enterprise blockchain technology is and that it is not Bitcoin, or that no Room77 does not accept bitcoin cash, shadow cash or the shitcoin of the week as payment.
During the 2013 bitcoin hype, there was a Bitcoin ATM in Room77. It was frequented by many and, after the Mt.Gox dump, the regulations around ATMs in Germany were not very euphoric. The ATM was removed and life went on in Room without it — as if bitcoin needs ATMs anyway.
In late 2018, there was a Berlin court decision that said that, since bitcoin is not officially money, that the law against ATMs was not valid. This created a grey area and ATMs started popping up here and there like fungi, and one such fungus appeared in Room. If you were there when Room opened on a given day, you might have found a few people that went in to use the ATM right away, who had been waiting outside and throughout the night for the chance to put their fiat money in the machine in exchange for bitcoin.
For the most part, they didn’t have a lot to do with the regular crowd hanging out in Room and came from all walks of life: old, young, in business attire or streetwear. The physical interaction with a machine was something that gave people a connection to bitcoin that they could grasp and easily understand. Quickly, people learned hands-on about confirmation times, price spreads and, after reading a banner on the wall, about Julian Assange.
Bitcoin, Shitcoins and Bacon Cheeseburgers
If there was something that Room was known for besides drinking and being a safe space for Bitcoin freaks, it was the burgers.
There were several variations on the menu, including the “Roadkill,” “Jimmy Carter” and the “Firecracker.” To demonstrate the use of tokens to an audience of bankers, someone created a “bacon cheazburger” token using the counterparty token layer.
This token could then be redeemed for a bacon cheeseburger at Room77. It became a topic of speculation, legend and bragging rights: “Bro, are you a bacon cheazburger whale?” “Do you have a bacon cheazburger token?” “Will the tokens be honored or is this a classic exit scam?”
But that was not the only “scam” at Room77. If you ordered a hot chocolate without looking at the menu, then you might not notice that it cost 28 to 47 euro. Was this a jab at people that ask bartenders to make hot chocolate? Or was it a sophisticated scam for innocent Bitcoin tourists that paid hot chocolate token holders?
Not only could you redeem a bacon cheazburger token at Room77, but, for the first time ever, pepecash was used to purchase a burger and drinks at the restaurant, making it a historical moment in blockchain history, forever.
There was also a regular Monero meetup and, although the Monero community lobbied for monero to also be accepted at Room77, it was never accepted as payment outside of the Monero Meetup night..
Bacon cheazburger token, pepecash and monero were not the only shitcoins to become topics of discussion in Room, however. In 2018, a visitor demanded to pay in bitcoin cash. This person went so far as to threaten a lawsuit for false advertisement if Room77 did not allow him to pay for his food and drink with bitcoin cash. Room77 refused and, well, is still waiting for that lawsuit.
The Bitcoin Version Of The Show “Cheers”
If you had walked into Room over the last few years, you might have been welcomed by a small, enthusiastic dog, noticed people drinking rum and wondered where the burgers were.
2018 was the last year for the burgers and that smoking was allowed inside (though, before, the smokers did have to wait until the kitchen was closed). One of the ritualistic drinks of this time was the pump-and-dump Pampero rum, and if you came on Bitcoin´s birthday, you might be in time for a piece of cake.
When the burgers were removed, some of us knew the end was near. There was chatter of creating a hackerspace with the brand of Room77 but, for different reasons, it was not meant to be. A pandemic that doesn’t allow for groups of people to meet in close quarters and talk about Bitcoin over drinks and clouds of smoke proved to be the final nail in the coffin for Room77… or was it?
The physical space located on Graefestrasse 77 Europe, Earth, Solar System, Milky Way, Virgo Supercluster may cease to exist as it once did. However, the people who made that space what it was and is are still here. As Joerg Platzer, Room77’s owner, said recently, “It was not me who made that place become what it became. It was you and the whole community who made it happen. I was offering a platform but what has happened with that platform was because so many great people chose to inhabit it.”
As Room 77 regular Anonymous Candle put it, “When one Room closes, another opens” and that is very true, as Room 77 inspired a lot of new locations that accept bitcoin in Berlin, including:
So, as Bitcoin and its community moves forward, let’s make sure to raise your glass or pour out some Club Mate in honor of a magical place and time: To the freedom of transaction, to blockchain eternity AND BEYOND!