Long, long ago in a Midtown office far, far away, I used to work for Investopedia, a website about money and investing where, among other things, I wrote about blockchain, cryptocurrency, Elon Musk, and Apple’s quarterly earnings. Now at Eater, I have a small dining budget, but most of what I cover somehow still seems to relate to either finance bros, food tech companies, or NFT restaurants. Well, if the shoe fits.
My hope is that this context will help explain how I ended up at Pubkey, a self-described “bitcoin bar” that opened in Greenwich Village this fall. The bar took over a basement-level space at 85 Washington Place, near Sixth Avenue, that’s been home to various dives popular with New York University students and local rabble-rousers over the last hundred years. Most recently, it was home to a pub called Formerly Crow’s, which set out to create a safe zone from the area’s “fancy-like cocktail bars and frat boy hellholes.”
In some ways, Pubkey is on a similar quest: As rich people buy wildly expensive memberships to exclusive restaurants using cryptocurrency, Pubkey’s owners want to cast bitcoin as a force to bring people together. Ironically, bitcoin is the only form of payment not accepted at the bar, but that hasn’t stopped crypto enthusiasts from turning out to show support. Earlier this month, I decided to join them.
“There’s a very dedicated and passionate group that doesn’t have that many places to go in New York City,” says co-owner Thomas Pacchia, a former director of blockchain incubation at Fidelity Investments. “If you’re new to it and you’re curious ... Twitter and Reddit are just terrible places to learn because you’re thrown into a shitshow conversation.”
Pacchia purchased the Formerly Crow’s space from owner Marshall Mintz, who was apparently ready to hand over the bar. He teamed up with Peter Richardson and Greg Minasian, who used to run the Lower East Side’s Spreadhouse Cafe before it closed. Greg Proechel, a chef who trained at Eleven Madison Park and previously ran the kitchen at Manhattan’s New American restaurant Le Turtle, is handling the food.
The partners want to use the space to host community events for locals who still believe in bitcoin, in spite of recent setbacks. The bar houses a small recording studio, which will eventually be used to record podcast interviews about bitcoin in front of live audiences, the owners say.
Stepping inside, it’s not immediately clear that the bar they opened is meant for crypto heads. The space feels more like a polished pub, the kind of place that will probably look better once a few more beers have been spilled on the floor. Beyond the bar up front, a back room is outfitted with tables, holiday lights, a stuffed raccoon — was it real? — and a television that appeared to be playing A Christmas Story when I visited.
A framed “buy bitcoin” sign hangs from one end of the bar, but really, most of the customers here seemed unaware of the theme, likely having blown in from nearby Sixth Avenue, known for its frat boy hellholes and late-night restaurants. It took some patience to find someone ready to talk shop.
“This is a bitcoin bar, but you don’t have to like bitcoin,” says a customer who would only identify himself as Mr. G. “It’s for everyone.” It’s G’s third time at the bar this week, and each time he had traveled to lower Manhattan from the Bronx, where he lives, to show support for what he believes to be the city’s first cryptocurrency bar. He extended me an invitation to a meet-up hosted by the Harlem Bitcoin Community for the following week, then returned to his grilled cheese.
Suddenly, everyone starts to clap. An “applause” sign has lit up at the back of the bar — a sign that a food order is ready for pick-up in the kitchen. A few minutes later, out come hot dogs in a variety of regional styles: There are New Jersey rippers (a fried frank with chili on a potato bun), Chicago dogs with all the fixings, and an “al pastor dog” that’s much better than it should be. Smash burgers, chopped cheese sandwiches, and hero rolls stacked with crunchy chicharron cost a few dollars more.
Everything is well-priced for the area. Nothing on the food menu costs more than $21, and the most expensive hot dogs clock in at $8 each. Drinks, including a beer cocktail made by pouring shots of sweet vermouth and Campari into a bottle of Miller High Life, are likewise reasonably priced.
The team plans to accept payment by bitcoin down the line using the Lighting Network, a technology built on blockchain that allows individuals to instantly exchange cryptocurrencies. For now, it’s cash and card. “We’ll scale into it more and more,” Pacchia says. “We’d be out of business pretty fast if we required bitcoin.”
Find Pubkey a few steps down street level Monday to Wednesday, from 1 p.m. to 2 a.m.; Thursday through Saturday, from 1 p.m. to 4 a.m.; and Sunday, from noon to 2 a.m. The kitchen stays open until an hour before close.