While cryptocurrency still has its sceptics, some businesses in Malta are embracing it with gusto. And Down the Rabbit Hole, a cocktail bar in Msida is one such place, accepting nine different cryptocurrencies.
Down the Rabbit Hole is run by an Irish family who moved to Malta in January 2016 and decided to make the Mediterranean island their home. Co-owner Mark O’Dwyer runs the business with the help of his father Billy and his Colombian fiance Susana. He is a third-generation bar owner and has always been a keen entrepreneur.
“My granddad owned pubs and so did my father, so when I spotted a great opportunity in Malta, I jumped on it. My dad came over from Ireland and helped me set it up. I guess I've always been interested in business. When I was 10 I picked apples and tried to sell them to the local shops. When I was 16 I set up a successful events company for a local young entrepreneur’s competition. In college, I set up a travel company and after that a video production company, which my cousin still runs to this day.”
Mark is as passionate about his bricks and mortar project as he is about the digital side of his business. “I invested in Bitcoin in 2016 when it was relatively cheap and since then I've been a bit of a crypto-nerd. I love the potential for blockchain technology and believe decentralisation is the future. I distrust banks, governments and large corporations. I guess you could say I'm a bit of libertarian. Crypto still has a long way to go, but I thought it would be a cool USP to be a pioneer.”
As well as being his personal interest, Mark likes to educate his customers on the electronic currency, by holding talks in his bar. “The events are very interesting and popular. When we hold talks it feels like the birthing of a revolution is taking place. We also host comedy and live acoustic music nights. And we have a quarterly event called THINK, which is held along with the local university students. It's something like a TED talk.”
As the name suggests ‘Down The Rabbit Hole” is an Alice in Wonderland-themed bar with a wall full of vintage clocks and a giant mural dedicated to the girl at the centre of the story. “When people come in, I want them to have a new experience, an adventure in Wonderland,” continues Mark. “We have about 50 different craft beers at any one time. We also do signature cocktails and stock some pretty interesting gins and spirits.”
That variety also stretches to his clientele. “While we do get a lot of Irish and Maltese, the majority of our customers are Swedes, French, Italian, Poles, Serbs, Brits, as well as Brazilians, Americans, Ethiopians and Filipinos. It really is a cosmopolitan spot.”
Part of the mural at 'Down The Rabbit Hole'.
Mark describes his bar has having a Brooklyn vibe, which is no surprise given that he lived and worked in Manhattan for two years. When his time there was up, he chose Malta instead of returning home to Ireland. “When I came back to Europe, it was my number one choice. I'd been here several times before and I liked it. It's sunny, English-speaking and fun. I also had a friend working in the online gambling industry here, who looked like he had the best lifestyle out of all my mates. So, I decided to copy and paste what he had done and moved here.”
And Mark plans to keep that energy and momentum going, so much so that he is already working on another project. “We recently acquired a premise in the area and are busy refurbishing it. It will be called "The Hatter" and is more of a summer spot with outdoor seating that sells food. We hope to be open by the end of May. I can’t wait."
And after that? “Hopefully another spot!” he says. “The future looks bright in this country.”