Last year, on December 17, 2017, Bitcoin hit its all-time high of $19,783.21, having climbed from a value of under $1,000 less than a year before that. But volatility is a two-way street, and what goes up must inevitably come down. Bitcoin’s 2017 boom was succeeded by a 2018 bust that has crashed the value back down to around $5,500 today and all but tanked the entire cryptocurrency market in what has been referred to as “the great crypto crash.”
With the future of the potentially planet-killing coins so uncertain and the ICO market teeming with scams, I was a bit skeptical when I found an invitation to MORE Hollywood, Los Angeles’ first Bitcoin-backed cryptocurrency nightclub, in my inbox. The email said that “MORE is a custom designed experience marking the first real world application of blockchain technology in the global hospitality market.” I had no idea how to parse that fluffy copy, but I had already begun imagining a dark, monitor-lit scene where Mr. Robot and I snorted rails of Adderall off Kim Dotcom’s breasts while Aphex Twin blasted in the background, and that sounded like a fun enough time, so I accepted the offer and made plans to experience the cyberpunk future of nightlife on a Friday night.
As I found out on my arrival to The Argyle, a well-known traditional LA club, the crypto-clubbing crowd was not (yet) sizable enough to warrant its own edifice. Instead, my host for the evening, Idessa Reyes, MORE’s VP of Business Development, led me up some stairs to a private booth that overlooked The Argyle dance floor and its less tech-savvy guests. Designating my transition into the crypto-space was a plexiglass sign mounted to the wall that said "MORE Hollywood." While I hadn’t been expecting to plug myself into The Matrix, I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a tad disappointingly analog.
Two bar girls were already partying together in the booth upon our arrival. They were occasionally hired to mingle with high-roller guests who bought out such booths and tables. One of the women, who introduced herself as adult film actress Miranda Miller, was quick to praise cryptocurrency advocates when I asked her about her experiences with them in the MORE booth.
“The crypto kids are the nerds you secretly had a crush on in high school but were too nervous to approach,” said Miller.
While that statement may have come from Miller’s heart, it sounded a bit canned, so I sought a second opinion from her partner in bottle service. The second bar girl mirrored Miller’s blanket enthusiasm for crypto until I pressed her a bit about its environmental impact. She broke character and said she was “from a family of journalists” and would be happy to have an “off the record” conversation about her true thoughts on the topic. Unfortunately, she started doing champagne-fueled splits on the ground soon after this, causing Reyes to intervene and leaving her embarrassed enough that she asked me to keep her anonymous in my write up.
Still a bit confused about where cryptocurrency fits into this relatively by-the-books night at the club, I asked Reyes to further explain. She explained that MORE is like a club where members are granted access to the VIP booths and treatment at various clubs around the country. The Argyle was the second club where MORE claimed a booth following in the footsteps of MORE’s Las Vegas pilot booth inside Hyde at the Bellagio. Another MORE booth was scheduled to open the next weekend in Orange County and other openings around the nation are planned for 2019. To cut the non-STEM plebs in line and gain access to this network of clubs, all you need do is purchase 5,000 blockchain-MORE Coins ($537.65 at time of publishing) and verify those holdings with MORE management. Once inside a MORE club, members can spend their MORE coins on discounted bottle service, exclusive event access or even exotic car rentals for the nouveau riche techy with money to burn. Or, they can settle their bill with cash or card like a normie.
Reyes also mentioned that MORE coin members are able to order drinks in the booth by scanning a QR code tattoo on their server's wrist. Given the already dystopian-leaning nature of the crypto sector, I felt compelled to ask for verbal confirmation that these tattoos were of the temporary sort. I was relieved to learn that waitresses were not being permanently inked to sell Cîroc, but somewhat bummed to hear that there were no code-sporting servers on hand that evening. Instead, I was given some paper tickets to trade in for an alcoholic beverage. I was fortunate enough to have some cash on hand to tip the bartender.
Over the next hour or so, I hung out in the booth chatting with Reyes and the bar girls hoping for one of MORE’s 75 LA members to arrive to probe about their experiences as members. Sadly, none showed up. It was the day after Thanksgiving, and I’d been warned this might happen. Fortunately, the non-crypto main floor was filled with people, so I went downstairs to mingle with some New Zealander tourists before calling it a night.
Though I’d had a nice time at MORE, I was having a hard time understanding what differentiated my crypto-clubbing from the hoi polloi’s so I got on a call with MORE founder Peter Klamka the following Monday to address my lingering questions. He explained that the lack of tech stuff during my visit was due to MORE Hollywood having only been open for six weeks and that was still finding its footing. Eventually, he explained, each MORE location would have a “crypto expert” with “cool iPads or Apple watches you can pay on” and “the coolest technology on the girls that are gonna bring the bottles to you.”
Klamka also told me about his brainchild’s early days as a token-based rewards membership for a Vegas strip club. Once his concept had been proven in the topless bar, casinos began expressing an interest in Klamka’s model as an avenue for incremental revenue that would take advantage of their nightly glut of unsold tables.
“From the club standpoint, I’m giving you a customer that wouldn’t normally go to you or would feel excluded from going to you because they’re not the most handsome,” says Klamka of the decision to take his token strip club rolodex to the nightclub circuit. “One guy we’ve got is a billionaire, but you’d never figure it out, and he’s so dumb, he’d wait in line at Hakkasan. So, we’re sort of translating [the nightlife scene] for that kind of member and speaking their language in the process.”
“If you’re a crypto guy, you get more,” Klamka says of the token system’s rebranding to its current name. “You get more Vegas, you get more bottles, you get more girls, you get more Lamborghinis, and all of the excess that was available back at that time.”
With this statement, Klamka acknowledges that those halcyon days, where his members were “living in a world where crypto only goes up, so they’ll spend $50,000 in a strip club because they’ll have another 50 [thousand dollars] tomorrow” may well be behind us. This doesn’t concern him.
“If crypto went away tomorrow,” he posits, “I’d still have this private network of clubs inside various nightclubs around the country targeted at males between 21 and 35.”
For the time being, however, MORE will carry on opening in new locations and branding itself as the premiere cryptocurrency nightclub, even if that means going down with the crypto ship.
“We’re creating some liquidity for whatever liquidity's left,” he says. “If you want a fun night out with your last $1,000 or $2,000 [of cryptocurrency], you can spend it with us. If it’s the end of the world in crypto, fine, because it’s not the end of the world in tech. And if it’s just a pause, we’ll be even stronger for it when crypto comes back.”
Should that be the case, he reckons the membership and network he’s building will be just fine.