In the brightly lit kitchen of the Crypto Castle, a three-story home in San Francisco’s Potrero Hill neighborhood, young tech workers drink from Solo Cups and wax poetic about bitcoin.
“I don’t think you can be in this house for two hours without being evangelized,” said Jeremy Gardner, a resident and seasoned entrepreneur working on bitcoin technologies.
His roommate, Viviane Ford, perks up. With eyes wide, she said she bought bitcoins within a week of moving in, calling it “the best investment I’ve ever made.”
Bitcoin is a new kind of payment system in which people use digital currency, also called bitcoin, to buy things and send money. There are no banks. Transactions are recorded on a digital ledger called a blockchain, which allows users to stay anonymous.
Some folks buy bitcoins in the hopes that they'll go up in value. On January 2, Bitcoin reached a three-year high after its value passed $1,000, up about 140% from the beginning of 2016. Still, the currency has yet to catch on widely. The software is complicated, the risk of being hacked is great, and it's not popular enough to be practical.
But as I learned on a recent visit to the Crypto Castle, where roughly a dozen cryptocurrency entrepreneurs have called home since its founding in 2015, it's hard not to get excited about bitcoin when you're among its biggest fans.
Here's what it's like to eat, sleep, drink, and work at the Crypto Castle.
2016 was a pretty great year for the tenants of the Crypto Castle. As the value of bitcoin rose, they got richer, Gardner said as he swirled a glass of liquor with his finger.
Not everyone who lives here works in the bitcoin space, though anyone could pitch you on its merits. Some entrepreneurs moved in simply because they needed a place to crash.
Ford, head of operations at Comma, a self-driving-car technology startup, said she "lived in a legitimate closet for two weeks" before discovering the Crypto Castle.
It offers prices that can't be beat in the nation's most expensive rental market. Tenants split the monthly rent of $8,100. Gardner guesses the home is worth $3 million.
In 2015, Gardner, then the director of operations at Augur, a market forecasting tool that runs on blockchain, surveyed the city to find a house-slash-office for his startup.
When he found a three-bedroom home in an upscale neighborhood — a half-hour drive from Silicon Valley — he forked over the $20,000 deposit. The Crypto Castle was born.
The house has since become a "landing pad for anyone doing cool stuff for the industry," Gardner said. Most residents and guests, who sleep in bunks, are in their early 20s.
Gardner turns 25 this month, but said he likes looking young. He thinks it will attract investors. "Everyone wants to invest in the next Mark Zuckerberg, the next big thing."
One roommate, Alex Voto, runs a research lab at the Palo Alto-based Institute for the Future, which forecasts how bitcoin might affect social, economic, and political spheres.
As you move through the house, it becomes clear that this is no ordinary residence.
Anyone who wishes to become a full-time resident must take a copy of Gardner's favorite reading material, "Bitcoin: Introducing the Future of Money." A stack sits at the front door.
The fridge wears bitcoin-startup stickers like badges of honor.
The kitchen comes stocked with two beverages: Soylent (a chalky-tasting meal-replacement beverage backed by venture capital) and booze. Lots of booze.
A few tenants said living among so many motivated tech workers can be tiring. Ford remembers coming back from a run one Saturday and being bombarded by her coworkers.
Until recently, her company ran operations out of the basement. Comma founder George Hotz, a Silicon Valley wunderkind, built his first self-driving car in the garage.
Hotz also lived in this closet. "The work-life balance just didn't exist," Ford said.
Aaron Power-Bearden, an equities trader and a bitcoin enthusiast, says he enjoys the late-night talks in the living room. "Mostly it's about finance," he said. In the Crypto Castle, no one needs to travel far to find smart, like-minded people.
Power-Bearden also likes ordering hot wings, a weekly ritual for the gang.
One house guest told me that the last time he was at the house, a random guy grilled him a hot dog. "Two weeks later, I found out it was the cofounder of Oculus," he said.
Not all the residents of the house, which Gardner calls a "hangout place" for bitcoin evangelists, actually work at bitcoin-related companies.
But they're bonded by a belief that bitcoin is the future. In 2016, they made bets on the value of the virtual currency by the end of the year, Ford said.
As the price of bitcoin soars into 2017, they're all winners.