Crypto Cocktails

The digital revolution meets brick-and-mortar as bars and restaurant explore NFTs.

In San Diego, Botanica emphasizes NFTs via local art that’s displayed on screens at the bar (pictured, right wall). Parent group Be Saha Hospitality plans to incorporate NFTs even more going forward.
In San Diego, Botanica emphasizes NFTs via local art that’s displayed on screens at the bar (pictured, right wall). Parent group Be Saha Hospitality plans to incorporate NFTs even more going forward. (Photo by Megan Jane Burgess)

As interest in digital currencies and assets continues to grow, the on-premise is beginning to experiment with NFT technology. NFTs (non-fungible tokens) are a type of digital asset that generally represents something collectible, often art or music, but also allocated spirits and wines. NFTs carry a unique digital signature, meaning they can’t be duplicated, and they can be purchased using cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin or Ethereum. In the bar world, NFTs are finding a niche in a few different forms. 

The bar Botanica opened in October in San Diego as a creative concept that melds the worlds of hospitality and art with an NFT twist. Per its name, Botanica highlights artisanal, botanical spirits, with a focus on gin and genever, and it serves upscale snacks and bar bites. The NFTs come into play through art, as the venue showcases locally commissioned pieces of tangible art alongside distinct digital works available for purchase via NFT. The digital art is displayed on screens in the venue and buyable through the blockchain company Humbl, with portions of the proceeds split between nonprofit groups and the artists themselves. 

Botanica is owned by Be Saha Hospitality Group and general partner Amar Harrag says the company is making a bigger push to incorporate NFTs going forward. Along with its art program, Be Saha plans to create NFT-centered events, and an NFT membership program this year, as well as an NFT cocktail experience, through which guests who purchase the NFT can order a specialty drink only available to them. “The more effort we put into educating people about the NFT space and its opportunities, the more engagement we get,” Harrag says. “Part of our mission is debunking some of the NFT myths. We’re excited about our NFT model.” 

Star chef Nina Compton has big plans for an NFT concept in New Orleans. Her ShaSha Lounge, which is set to open in 2023 and celebrate all things New Orleans, including music, art, culture, and cocktails, has received a lot of attention in its early planning stages, in part because Compton has said it will be a membership-based lounge and that memberships will need to be purchased via NFT. A portion of sales from the membership NFT and the bar’s revenues will be donated back to New Orleans. 

“As with anything cutting edge, adaptation can take time, but I think people will get it and I think we’re ready for it,” Compton says. “It’s essentially the same as other membership clubs—be that a country club or other similar venues—except the ShaSha NFT will be ownable and sharable, which makes it even better. ShaSha is going to be a traditional bar and lounge, hopefully one of the best New Orleans and this country has to offer. The only difference is how you’ll access it, and what that access will provide you beyond the four walls of the location.” 

NFT platform BlockBar is dedicated to the beverage alcohol world, offering an online marketplace and physical storage for luxury wines and spirits. Co-founder Samuel Falic, who’s well-versed in cryptocurrencies and digital ownerships, says there are a lot of ways for traditional bars and restaurants to enter the NFT landscape. “There’s of course the obvious way, which is that an NFT can serve as an access point to a private restaurant or provide special perks like discounts or a table on standby,” Falic explains. “Then there’s also an opportunity to, let’s say, try a specific bottle (of wine or liquor in the space), and if you like it, scan the QR code and browse through other versions of that brand and potentially purchase it right on your phone with an NFT.” 

Falic adds that on-premise venues could use NFTs to boost their loyalty programs and manage reservations of in-demand tables, or even partner with luxury spirits and wine brands for their special releases on BlockBar. “There are many different ways for bars and restaurants to enter the space and there definitely could be value added, but it has to make sense,” Falic says. “I would steer away from using NFTs purely as a marketing campaign and recommend instead using them as an innovative way to solve an actual problem. An NFT is just digital ownership, so it’s really limitless for what business owners can do to utilize NFTs.”