MIAMI—It’s 2 a.m. and a group of four men and I are trying to get into E11even, a trendy downtown dance spot that doubles as a strip club and is best known for being the spot where Drake and Rihanna were spotted kissing in 2016. At this point in the night, the line is so long that people are spilling into the street. There is a woman walking around in stilts and lingerie and another dressed like a cat and tied to a leash, held by yet another woman in lingerie. A weary-seeming bouncer is trying to hold back the throngs of bored-looking, half-naked women and impatient men; a billboard behind him features a photo of a Bored Ape and the words “non-fungible nightlife.”
Eventually, our group decides that the only way to get inside is to buy a table. I ask the beleaguered bouncer if there is one still available and make a small choking sound when he tells me it will be $5,000. The man beside me doesn’t blink. “That’s fine,” he says. “Can I pay in Bitcoin?”
I’m here for the Bitcoin 2022 conference—or more accurately, the Bitcoin 2022 conference after-party. The conference itself is a massive, 25,000-person expo for crypto enthusiasts. The days are filled with loosely attended talks with titles like “Mining Bitcoin with Renewables” and “Building Bitcoin Communities,” but the real action happens afterward, when attendees funnel out of the convention center and into the surrounding bars, a sea of wrist-banded tech bros overtaking the sweaty Miami night. More than one person I meet tells me they didn’t even bother buying a conference ticket; they’re just here for the parties.
Before the conference even starts, I’m added to a private Twitter group largely devoted to a discussion of which parties everyone is going to. Someone shares a spreadsheet of all the bashes, over a dozen every day—and that’s not counting exclusive, unlisted events taking place around the city. A large portion of the Twitter group chatter—and the in-person talk at the conference, after a certain point in the afternoon—is how to get into the hottest parties, and every night requires an Olympian level of social maneuvering I have not experienced since I was 22 and trying to talk my way into celebrity mansions in L.A. The jockeying feels odd considering how everyone here keeps telling me that Bitcoin is all about openness and equality.
My first night at the conference I am turned away from an after-party at the door, which is how I meet the man who will eventually buy us our table at E11even. He is also denied entry, and we both take refuge at the hotel bar slightly outside the gathering, where we can look through the windows and watch the strobe lights flashing and contortionists twisting on pedestals beside the pool. He tells me he was an early adopter of Bitcoin—motivated by his Libertarian politics and distrust of government—and recently sold his crypto-based startup. As we talk, he catches sight of someone who works for the company hosting the soiree—a twentysomething in a half-undone Polo button-down who looks like he was captain of his high school lacrosse team—and asks him whether he can get us in.
The guy in the button-down seems slightly unsure, but after getting us wristbands proves easier than expected, his easy frat-star confidence returns.
“I got you,” he crows, ushering us into the crowded room. “I mean, this is our party.”
Whose party this all is is a matter of some contention. Bitcoin started as a rebellious project launched by a bunch of hackers set on protecting their digital privacy and upending the traditional financial system, and many of the die-hard bitcoiners at the conference—including my new Libertarian friend—are still convinced of its world-changing potential. But as Bitcoin has grown more popular, it has also become more mainstream, drawing in traditional finance types looking to get in on the ground level. The fact that the political punks and finance bros are both here—at the same conference, at the same parties, at the same $5,000 tables—is an awkward tension that goes largely unspoken.
I stay for about an hour at the first night’s event, until I can no longer bear to hear any more about the SEC, unsecured loans, and whether the U.S. will launch its own digital dollar. I arrive at the next night’s after-party around 8 p.m., and while the setting is different— the swanky Moxy hotel restaurant, with low lights, thick rugs, and a free raw bar—the crowd is much the same: overwhelmingly men, mainly discussing Bitcoin.
I make my way to a table occupied by two men I met at a happy hour the day before. They have been joined by a tall, lanky man who is eagerly explaining that Oct. 31—the day that Satoshi Nakamoto, the creator of Bitcoin, posted his infamous white paper outlining the basics of the technology—is the same day Martin Luther nailed his theses to a church door, setting off the Protestant Reformation. The man is obviously one of the Bitcoin true believers, and his implication is clear: This currency was designed to set off a revolution as cataclysmic as Luther’s.
After about half an hour of this, I excuse myself to find the restroom and run headlong into another Bitcoin die-hard, a man in a jean jacket covered in crypto-themed patches. He politely obliges when I ask to take a picture of his jacket, but when I mention that I am reporting on “cryptocurrencies,” his demeanor changes. “Don’t say that word,” he says. Knowing I will regret it, I ask him why, and find myself in yet another half-hour-long conversation about how Bitcoin is superior and how all other tokens aren’t really cryptocurrencies at all.
Eventually two of his friends join in, all jockeying to be the first to “orange pill” me—the phrase Bitcoin enthusiasts use for when someone joins their ranks. (Someone mistakenly calls it “red-pilling,” which refers to being indoctrinated into misogynistic, incel-adjacent beliefs, and the man in the jacket laughs and says, “We could do that too.”) When I ask why there are so few women in the crypto space, they cite Jordan Peterson—the controversial psychologist who is speaking at the conference the next day—and claim women aren’t discriminated against in tech, they just choose not to pursue math- and science-focused careers.
Looking for something slightly more inclusive, I say goodbye and head to what is billed as an “NFT party,” which apparently just means a party where animated digital artwork is displayed on a wall. This one is hosted at Maps nightclub, but few people are dancing and most are on their phones. At one point, the DJ tries to hype up the crowd by yelling, “Ladies of crypto, make some noise!” The resulting cheer is barely audible. “Well, there are like five of you,” the DJ concedes, then adds: “Be careful.” I pay $10 for a can of water called “Liquid Death,” talk to two men briefly about the future of pay-to-earn video games, and head home.
The next night, the button-down guy from two days earlier invites me to come out with him and his friends to a “dope apartment party” and then to E11even. The party is hosted by Blockster, a crypto media company, and takes place in the founder’s massive South Beach apartment. The apartment complex is sprawling; we find our way by following the sounds of thumping electronic music. When we enter, I notice the upper floor has been turned into a DJ booth, the kitchen into an open bar. Some people are drinking and dancing in the living room, others are lounging on one of the two terraces overlooking the marina. Just about everyone is vaping.
I have arrived with Button Down and one of his friends, a man who looks to be no older than 25; I learn later that he has already founded and sold his own crypto company and probably has more money than I will ever see in my lifetime. We are joined by another one of Button Down's coworkers, as well as the early-adopter Libertarian I met two nights before. They all look largely unimpressed by the massive amount of wealth on display. “You wanted to see a crypto party,” the young-looking one says to me dryly. “This is what they all look like.”
Numerous people at the party claim to be close personal friends of the host and offer to introduce me; none actually succeed in doing so. Eventually, however, the enigmatic host, Adam Todd, is forced to make an appearance because four Miami Beach police officers have arrived at the door. Apparently the majority of the complex’s residents have called in a noise complaint. The partygoers seem unfazed. “Turn the music back on!” a woman next to me yells when they cut the sound system. “The crypto guy can pay the fine.”
Eventually we are forced to leave, and the five of us make our way across the bridge and into downtown Miami in the Libertarian’s rented Tesla. The crew seems slightly unnerved by having a journalist along for the ride—I have assured them no names will be used—but also excited about being in the presence of an actual woman after a three-day bro-fest. “We got bitches!” one of them yells jokingly into the phone when a friend calls to ask where they are. “We got bitches and paparazzi,” his friend corrects.
When we finally get inside E11even—even in a proclaimed “global crypto hub” like Miami, it takes 20 minutes to process a Bitcoin payment—it is filled with other conference attendees. The crypto nerds in conference wristbands and “Friends don't let friends sell Bitcoin'' shirts awkwardly clash with the women of Miami, sporting rhinestone-studded bathing suits and distracting amounts of lip filler. Neither side seems to really know what to do with the other—until, that is, a surprise set by Nelly, which gets everyone from the bottle girls to the programmers to briefly forget themselves and start dancing on the tables.
It’s all a little strange, really—the fact that all these people are out here, partying and paying for bottle service and tipping strippers on the back of a technology that is less than a decade old. There is a sense that the whole ecosystem is fragile; that at any time the bubble could burst and most of the people at this club—probably most of the people in Miami Beach this week—could fall hard. Maybe that’s what unites the finance bros and political rebels alike: the knowledge that at any moment this could end, and the desperate need to keep the party going. When I finally call it a night at 4 a.m., I am the first one to head home.