During the summer of 2016, I was bartending intermittently at Jude’s, in Rainier Beach. I was there for assorted weekdays, when someone was out of town and needed to get covered. I was freelancing as a writer intermittently. My days were underfilled and overanxious.
One hot, sticky night in July, I was taking care of a small number of guests, mostly at the bar. Then, all of a sudden, over the course of about 10 minutes, there were about 20 white men in the room. From their attire and grooming, they looked to be tech people: some were more bro, some were more nerdy, but they were all computer people.
Jude’s is a sit down place, with table service, but these guys didn’t know. Jude’s is somewhere between a family diner and a happy dive, so it’s understandable. (But they didn’t ask, either.) I think I started by coming out to them individually, but I had to give up after a few minutes.
Some of guys started lining up at the bar, by the pass, so it was hard for me to come to and fro. Some guys were waving at me, or holding up their hand, and trying to get my attention so that they could shout orders at me. I found all this annoying. I am not as gracious a bartender as some, and I got salty.
After a while, it became clear that all these guys were here for the same reason. They were congregating, standing up, in the middle of the floor. One guy seemed to be the ringleader. He was greeting people as they came in. Eventually he came up to the bar. He ordered an IPA.
“Hey, man,” I said, grumpy, “you guys should really call ahead if you’re going to have a big meetup like this.”
The guy gave me a perfunctory apology. He said he hadn’t thought of that. (Obviously.) In any case, I could tell he didn’t care one way or another. I asked him what everyone was talking about.
“It’s an Ethereum meetup,” he said.
“What’s that?” I said. “Is that like an RPG or something?”
The guy looked at me with pity.
“No,” he said, “It’s a cryptocurrency.”
At this point, I hadn’t yet heard all the messianic nonsense about the revolutionary social power of the blockchain. (Ethereum people are big on that.) I’d only heard about the murderous crescendo of Silk Road, and that BitCoin was the main currency behind it.
“So it’s like BitCoin?” I said.
The organizer took this as an insult. He had a look of pain on my face, but he deigned to fill me in. “No,” he said, “Ethereum is totally different. It has a decentralized governance structure. We make our own decisions. BitCoin is like the Model T. This is like a Tesla.”
“So is it just you guys?” I said. “Are you launching or something? I could write about it. I’m a freelance reporter.”
“Ethereum is a global currency,” the guy said. “We were in the New York Times.” He seemed very pleased with himself about this. He went on to explain that a controversy about theft and hacking had split the Ethereum community into bitter factions, undermining the decentralized governance structure he was so jazzed about.
I said it didn’t seem like the decentralized thing wasn’t going so well. The ringleader explained that the meetup was the exciting part of the crisis. All over the world, groups of people were deciding their own financial fates. He ascribed a great deal of meaning to it. He may have implied that these meetups were the key to solving the traps of late capitalism.
I don’t know if the Seattle meetup made any difference. Now there are two kinds of Ethereum.
Meanwhile, my financial fate was not good. These blockchain enthusiasts were not enthusiastic boozers. Most of them ordered, over the course of the evening, one IPA apiece, all at once, immediately before my conversation with the organizer.
One Ethereumite was getting into craft cocktails. I know this because he ordered a bartender’s choice cocktail. That was a weird decision. At that point, Jude’s was not that kind of bar. At no point was I that kind of bartender.
The request for an improvised cocktail made me get surlier than I already was. In retrospect, my attitude was probably not in my rational self-interest as an economic actor, but I stand by my decision making.
He requested, after noticing a striking bottle on the back bar, that I include lavender liqueur in his drink. I asked him what kind of hooch he wanted. He said he wanted the lavender liqueur. I explained that his cocktail should not be exclusively based in lavender liqueur, because it would be gross. He settled on mezcal as the base spirit.
I made the guy a shaken drink with mezcal, grapefruit juice, and the lavender liqueur. I served it up in a martini glass. I tasted the drink with a straw before I served it. It was terrible. The guy wafted the drink and complimented me on bringing out certain flavor notes that did not exist.
Everyone stood in the middle of the restaurant floor and talked for hours without buying a second round. I stayed an hour and a half past closing with nothing to do before I announced last call. The Ethereumites settled up and left.
I discovered then that crypto investors are stingy tippers. Maybe all their money is stuck online, in a blockchain.