Dirt: 0.000868 ETH
A visit to a crypto bar.
Daniel Spielberger on North Hollywood’s first crypto bar.
Nestled in the heart of the San Fernando Valley lies the North Hollywood Art District. The neighborhood is a labyrinth full of surprises: lamp posts adorned with flyers advertising Avatar-themed improv troupes and missing pomeranians, sushi-tiki bars evoking a suburban dad going through a midlife crisis, and cannabis shops hawking the latest CBD elixirs.
Living here in the midst of a global pandemic, I have seen many places come and go, like a Chicago hot dog spot which served nuclear waste-seeming relish, and Burgerim, an Israeli burger franchise whose owner fled the country following some financial shenanigans and an ill-fated collaboration with Jonathan ‘Foodgod’ Cheban. In late July, while taking a summer night stroll, I came across a new treasure—Jungla, a Mexican bar that’s the purported first cryptocurrency establishment in the neighborhood.
I peeked inside and was instantly enthralled. Faux-orchids dangling from the ceiling. Walls were decorated with a painting of a femme fatale biting into a Bitcoin and an assemblage of neon signs of various cryptocurrencies. Bad Bunny blasted from the speakers.
I came back a week later to meet with Jungla owner Christian Alonso. While I waited, I sat and read Stephen King’s post-apocalyptic classic The Stand. And after a tangy drink called the El Capo Doge arrived, we had a brief chat. He informed me that my cocktail cost 0.000868 Ethereum and ordered me some short rib tacos drizzled with a scrumptious aioli—on the house.
Prior to Jungla, Alonso was in the valet parking business. He first encountered crypto in 2018, and got further immersed in Web 3.0 during the onset of COVID-19, researching it on Twitter and YouTube.
“I didn't know how everything worked,” he recalls. “After the pandemic hit really bad, I saw everything [was] really low and that's when I got more involved and I started buying little by little.”
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And then last year, he came up with the idea to start a crypto restaurant with his brother. According to Alonso, when he started his business five months ago, roughly 20% of transactions were done over cryptocurrency. Despite market volatility, he remains an optimist. He believes that coins will rally within the coming months and that ultimately, cryptocurrency will be a force of good for the restaurant industry.
Even though his business partner was initially skeptical, Alonso was not deterred (Jungla used to be a Peruvian place, offering standard methods of payment). “I said ‘Come on, we should do it’,” he says. “It’s going to get a lot of attention from people. People are going to be more curious and involved.”
He’s confident about his concept, and said the local community has responded with enthusiasm.
“I have a lot of friends and they own restaurants. They keep asking me [about Jungla],” he says. “So once every month, we have a small meeting and I try to teach them and show them because they're older than me. They want to get involved.”
But the metaverse’s impact on the food industry remains to be seen. There’s chatter of farming simulations, virtual tasting menus, digital farmer’s markets, and products crowdsourced and conceptualized by DAOs. Though Long Beach boasts its own crypto burger joint, Bored & Hungry, as far as I know, Jungla is the first of its kind in the valley (Alonso has met with a manager at the Long Beach joint). Alonso envisions a metaverse where customers will be able to drink and eat from the comfort of their homes while tipping servers in crypto.
“People can sit down and have drinks and next to you in the metaverse, they're going to be people doing the same thing,” he says. “It’s for people who don’t like to work outside. That's the people who are going to enjoy this kind of business and this kind of beauty. Some people just want to stay home and work from home. But I believe that this is going to make people really rich. They’re going to tip [servers] 30% with Bitcoin or whatever they want, so it’s going to help.”
During my visit, a very friendly waitress told me that she had served three tables who paid with cryptocurrency. However, she received her tips in cash, and said she was unfamiliar with the specificities of coins. Following a crypto transaction, Christian gives his servers the option to receive their tips in cash or crypto.
“I say, ‘You should try it. 10 or 12 bucks doesn’t hurt your pocket,’” he says. “Maybe next week you will have more or maybe next week you will have less… you never know.”
He claims that customers are into it (Jungla boasts 4.5 stars on Google). Promotion is also going well. “During the last three or four months, we’ve done 10 or 12 events about crypto and that helps,” he says. “One of the events was with Bonanza Global Solutions and this other one was with UMC. The UMC owner is going to use his own coin for events. He wants to build a brand like Coachella. They started with 400 to 500 people. Two weeks ago, they did an event at Santa Ana with 1500 people.”
Jungla’s menu is also peppered with nods to Web3— for drinks, you can grab the aforementioned El Capo Doge (a mezcal margarita) or a Paloma Shiba. And for snacking, there’s a Bitcoin Sampler, offering an assortment of chicken wings, tacos, and quesadillas. Everything I tried was tasty.
For Alonso, the future seems bright. “Just wait for a couple months and we’re going to see everything change,” he says. “El Salvador is making a Bitcoin city. That’s going to be crazy. That’s going to be insane.”
The rest is still unwritten, as they say. But for now, Alonso’s restaurant is something of a juxtaposition—it’s on a suburban boulevard alongside bar arcades and improv theaters, but also emulates the vibe of Web3. While taking Dogecoin, Etherium, Bitcoin, and Shiba Inu coin via the Coinbase app, it’s still unclear whether that’s an experiment or a sustainable business model. How do you bring the metaverse into the terrestrial realm without reducing it to an aesthetic? Does it matter as long as the tacos are good? (They are.) — Daniel Spielberger
The Dirt: Whether it’s in crypto or cash, tip your waitress.
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