Kava Bars: What Are They & Where Can I Find One Nearby?

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Kava bars have been popping up all around the United States over the past 4 years. They serve as an alternative to conventional bars as a place to socialize and unwind after a long day.

These shops are designed for comfort, often sporting a Pacific island vibe and dim lighting.

The people that attend these bars praise kava as a healthier alternative to alcohol

What exactly are kava bars? Where can I find a kava bar near me, and what can I expect for my first visit?

I’ll answer all these questions and more with this ultimate guide to kava bars.

(Mystic Kava Bar — Southern California)

A Brief Introduction To Kava

Kava is a plant originating from Polynesian islands such as Vanuatu, Samoa, Fiji, Hawaii, and Tonga.

It isn’t clear which island kava first originated from, but the plant has spread across most of the Pacific ocean, despite the plant’s inability to produce viable seeds.

Scientists suggest it was indigenous cultures that spread the plant by carrying root samples with them on voyages across the sea in search of new lands to colonize. Kava drinking was an important part of life for these cultures, who sought to take the plant with them to start new plantations in their new homes.

Kava remains an important part of daily life in many parts of the Pacific. In fact, kava is the national drink of Fiji, where there’s a particularly high prevalence of kava drinkers. 

Only in recent years has kava started to venture into other parts of the world. The herb is quickly being adopted by people living in the United States and Europe as a suggested alternative to alcohol.

What Are the Benefits of Kava?

Kava has an important set of benefits — it’s used for alleviating stress and feelings of anxiety, and can help us fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer.

These effects are highly relevant to the modern world where stress and sleep deprivation are commonplace.

Kava is used by grinding the root into a fine powder and mixing with water for several minutes. The result is a murky liquid with an earthy and mildly spicy flavor.

Kava is traditionally consumed in groups because it makes users feel content and carefree — as if all the stress that’s built up throughout the day was washed away. This makes it easy to laugh and socialize with friends and family. Some people drink the herb alone as a way to unwind, relax, meditate, or sleep more soundly.

What is a Kava Bar?

Kava bars operate much like a coffee shop or bar. They’re designed to make customers feel as relaxed as possible — often incorporating couches and padded platforms for visitors to sit or lounge. Here, you can sit, drink kava, socialize with friends, eat food, and in some cases, even order a hookah to share as well.

The whole concept of a kava bar is centered around establishing a sense of community. They’re based on the traditional Nakamals of Vanuatu — which were known to have doors without any locks as a message of inclusion and trust.

Most of the kava bars are located in Florida and California, but just about every major city in America has at least one kava bar. The majority of these bars have only opened their doors within the last 5 years. The scene is growing rapidly, and I expect to see the trend continue over the next decade as more people realize the advantages of kava in daily life and as an alternative to intoxicants like marijuana or alcohol.

(SquareRut Kava bar — Austin Texas)

The Kava Bar Experience: What To Expect

So how does a kava bar work? What does the process look like upon entering a kava bar for the first time?

When You First Walk In

The first thing you’re likely to notice when you walk in is the atmosphere. Kava bars usually have a lot of couches, pillows, or padded platforms to sit on. Seating areas will vary in size to accommodate different sized groups of people. Many kava bars emulate a Pacific island vibe — incorporating bamboo structures, palm trees, and thatched roofing.

Many kava bars also feature live music such as reggae, blues, or mellow mood. The most common reason for attending a kava bar is to socialize, so you won’t find the music too loud or stimulating.

After you walk in, you can find a place to sit, and a bartender will bring you some menus. On the menu, you’ll likely find a few different types of kava.

Selecting Your Kava

Each type of kava has a slightly different effect profile — some offering more of a couch-lock, body high, others being less sedative and more euphoric. It all depends on which effects you’d like to experience.

If you’re not sure where to start, I recommend you look for something described as having a “balanced” effect. This means the kava won’t be too sedative or too euphoric — it’s right down the middle.

Most kava bars will have a guide for each cultivar offered to describe the effect profiles and flavor to help you decide.

You may be asked whether you want a “high tide” or “low tide”. High tide just means you’ll get a full cup of kava, while a low tide refers to a half cup.

You’ll usually be able to order some snacks or even a hookah to enjoy with your kava as well. One thing you won’t be able to order is alcohol — and for good reason. Kava and alcohol are a bad combination and should be avoided. It’s better to stick to one or the other.

Drinking Kava

Once you’ve ordered, the bartender will prepare your kava and bring the cups out to the table a few minutes later. It really depends on the kava bar, but your kava will usually arrive in traditional coconut cups (bilos) or a similarly shaped wooden, metal, or plastic cup.

You’re now faced with a cloudy, brown liquid — it resembles muddy water but has the scent of cut grass.

To be completely honest, kava has an acquired taste. It’s fairly bitter and can have an aftertaste similar to fresh-cut grass. For this reason, I highly recommend you order a few snacks like a bowl of fruit to chase the kava with once it arrives. Pineapple works particularly well for this.

You can drink the kava at your own pace, and spend your time socializing and catching up with your friends. An order of kava will usually include a couple of refills, so once the cup is empty, make sure to ask the bartender to fill up your cup.

Nakamals: The Original Kava Bars

The modern kava bar as we know it today was inspired by the traditional Nakamals of Vanuatu — which are large communal buildings that serve as meeting places for ceremonies, social gatherings, and other kava-drinking activities.

Traditionally, these nakamals are exclusive to men — but this is no longer the case in most places. Nakamals are places of acceptance and openness — allowing anybody in the community to join and hang out.

Most of the cities and villages in Vanuatu have their own Nakamal.

Kava Bar Etiquette

In the United States, it isn’t as important to stick to traditional etiquette around drinking kava — but there are a few small things worth knowing before you visit a kava bar for the first time.

1. Bula!

Before you start drinking it’s customary to shout “bula!” before everyone in your group starts to drink kava. This is the Fijian equivalent to saying “Cheers!”

2. Dress Modestly

Although social norms are different in the US, traditionally, both women and men should dress in respectable clothing before they join a group to drink kava. On the Pacific islands, women would wear a sarong while drinking kava.

3. The Oldest Person Drinks First

Out of respect, it’s customary that the oldest person in the group takes the first sip of kava. Others will bow their head before taking a sip.

4. Photographs Are Okay, but Keep the Flash Off

Most kava bars are dimly lit. Sudden flashes from a camera can ruin the vibe. If you want to take pictures, try to be respectful of your environment and turn the flash off first.

What Does Kava Feel Like? How Do I Know If It’s Working?

Kava is a powerful herb, but it won’t make you lose your wits like alcohol or marijuana.

The First Sign of Activity

The onset of kava effects begins about 7 – 30 minutes after you begin drinking. These effects can last anywhere from 2 – 6 hours.

As you drink your cup of kava, you’ll gradually begin to feel the effects fade in. Kava is described as making users feel like they have a warm blanket placed around their body. They feel relaxed, comfortable, and chatty.

Effects Become Stronger Over Time

The more time that goes by, the stronger the effects get.

The most predominant effects are all in the head for the first hour or so. You may feel euphoric and happy at times, followed by periods of creativity and chattiness. All the while, the background effects of kava make you feel stress-free and at peace. It’s a very calming experience to drink kava.

Kava Starts in the Head, & Moves Down

After about an hour or so, the effects of kava tend to fluctuate more towards the body. New sensations arise as the muscles all-around your body begin to relax. You may feel like changing position to be in more of a reclined position to get more comfortable.

Some people report feeling heavy, or as if they’re sinking into the chair or couch. The body effects of kava can be very enjoyable, especially if you experience muscle tension, or spend a lot of time on your feet.

The Peak Effects Depend on Your Choice of Kava

The final effects of kava will depend on the particular type you decided on at the beginning.

1. Heady Kava Effects

Kava with heady effects will generally remain primarily in the head — making users feel light, talkative, and euphoric. Heady kava is an excellent option for earlier sessions because they don’t have the same level of sedative action as a heavy strain of kava.

Heady kavas are also ideal for business meetings with colleagues or for studying with friends. These kavas tend to support the creative thought process and can be extremely useful for brainstorming, planning a project, or finding solutions to problems.

2. Heavy Kava Effects

Heavy kava will fade more and more towards the body as time goes on. This type of kava usually has drinkers feeling ready for bed about 3 – 5 hours after they take their first sip. This is a good option for people visiting a kava bar at the very end of their day before going home for a good night of rest.

3. Balanced Kava Effects

Balanced kava will remain somewhere in the middle — sometimes even jumping back and forth from heady to heavy in its effects.

The whole time you’re drinking kava, you retain complete mental clarity. In fact, most kava drinkers report improved clarity of thought while consuming the herb. This is in stark contrast to alcohol and marijuana which can dramatically affect your clarity of thought.

Find a Kava Bar Near You

There are already a lot of kava bars in operation within the United States, as well as a few in Mexico and some places in Europe. I’ve included a list below with a comprehensive list of all the kava bars I come across. Remember to check back as I’ll be keeping this list up-to-date as more kava bars open their doors over the next couple of years.

The United States

NameStateCity
CBD American Shaman + Kava BarArkansasFayetteville
MeloMelo Kava BarCaliforniaBerkeley
Root of Happiness DavisCaliforniaDavis
Wu Wei Tea TempleCaliforniaFairfax
ElixartCaliforniaNevada City
Root of Happiness Kava BarCaliforniaRancho Cordova
Aladdin Cafe Hookah & kava BarCaliforniaRoseville
Fiji Kava Pool BarCaliforniaSacramento
San Bruno Kava BarCaliforniaSan Bruno
Kava Lounge San DiegoCaliforniaSan Diego
Mystic Water Kava Bar San DiegoCaliforniaSan Diego
Rooted Kava BarCaliforniaSan Diego
Sunset KavaCaliforniaSan Diego
Kava Lounge SFCaliforniaSan Francisco
Key Tea HouseCaliforniaSan Rafael
Roots Kava BarCaliforniaSanta Cruz
Mad Hatters Mile High Kava BarColorado Denver
Ohana Kava BarColoradoColorado Springs
Kavasutra DenverColoradoDenver
Dharma Hookah & Kava LoungeFloridaLargo
Kava By the WaterFloridaPompano Beach
The Nak Kava BarFloridaBoca Raton
NakavaFloridaBoca Raton
Kava Culture Kava BarFloridaBonita Springs
Native KavaFloridaBoynton Beach
Hippie-HiFloridaClearwater
The Garden of TeaFloridaClearwater
Bula Café Cocoa BeachFloridaCocoa Beach
Mystic JointFloridaCutler Bay
Delray Kava LoungeFloridaDelray Beach
Kavastura Delray BeachFloridaDelray Beach
Purple Lotus Delray BeachFloridaDelray Beach
Fiji Kava BarFloridaFort Lauderdale
Tiki Tide Kava BarFloridaFort Lauderdale
Kava Culture Ft. MeyersFloridaFort Meyers
Kapua Kava BarFloridaFort Myers
Awa Na Kava Kava BarFloridaFt. Lauderdale
Kavasutra Ft. LauderdaleFloridaFt. Lauderdale
Mai Kai Kava BarFloridaGainesville
Kava Bar and Hookah LoungeFloridaGainesville
Low Tide Kava BarFloridaGulfport
Mystic Water Kava BarFloridaHollywood
KaVaporFloridaKissimmee
Kavasutra Lake WorthFloridaLake Worth
On Cloud9 Kava LoungeFloridaLargo
Speakeasy KavaFloridaLargo
Bula on the BeachFloridaMadeira Beach
Island Root Kava BarFloridaMelbourne
Syndicate Kava Bar & Tap RoomFloridaMiami
The Awa Kava LoungeFloridaMiami
Green Spot BotanicalsFloridaMiami
Purple Lotus Miami BeachFloridaMiami Beach
The Healthy BuddahFloridaMount Dora
ZenfiniTea Botanical Bar And LoungeFloridaNew Port Richey
Pacific RootzFloridaOrlando
Civil Vapes Kava BarFloridaOrlando
Tenaga KavaFloridaPalm Beach Gardens
Frog VaporFloridaPalm Harbor
Zen Root KavaFloridaPompano Beach
Tampa Vapor - Riverview / BrandonFloridaRiverview
Kilo's Kava & Tea BarFloridaSafety Harbor,
The Healthy Buddah 3FloridaSanford
Manna Tea & Kava barFloridaSarasota
Mad Hatters Ethnobotanical Tea BarFloridaSt Petersburg
Vapor Road - TyroneFloridaSt. Petersburg
Bula KafeFloridaSt. Petersburg
Grassroots Kava HouseFloridaSt. Petersburg
Lava LoungeFloridaSt. Petersburg
Muddy Water KavaFloridaSt. Petersburg
InVision Creative CafeFloridaSt. Petersburg
Vapor Road - DisstonFloridaSt. Petersburg
Island Root Kava BarFloridaStuart
KavakazeFloridaTallahassee
Steep StationFloridaTampa
SpookEasy LoungeFloridaTampa
Tampa Vapor - South TampaFloridaTampa
Mad Chiller World Kava & WafflesFloridaTampa
Te ManaFloridaWest Palm Beach
Purple Lotus West Palm BeachFloridaWest West Palm
The Healthy Buddah 2FloridaWinter Park
Kava Cove LoungeFloridaWinter Park
Kava KafeHawaiiHawi
Bayfront Coffee, Kava & Tea Company LLCHawaiiHilo
Diamond Head Cove Health BarHawaiiHonolulu
Kanaka KavaHawaiiKailua-Kona
Black Lava Vape and KavaHawaiiNaalehu
Uncle Robert's Awa BarHawaiiPahoa
La Hiki Ola Kava barHawaiiPahoa
Tropikava KafeIllinoisChicago
Mana BarKansasLawrence
Euphorbia Kava BarLouisianaNew Orleans
Sol Luna Tea Room and Hookah LoungePennsylvaniaTrevose
Kava Kasa GRMichiganGrand Rapids
TikiCatMissouriKansas City
Kickin' it with KavaMissouriSt. Charles
Synergy Smoothie and Elixir BarMissouriSt. Louis
Kulture Kava LoungeMontanaMissoula
Santa Fe Oxygen and Healing BarNew MexicoSanta Fe
Doc ConcrescenceNew YorkBinghamton
House of KavaNew YorkBrooklyn
Brooklyn KavaNew YorkBrooklyn
Mystic Water Kava BarNew YorkIthaca
Sacred Root Kava Lounge & Tea BarNew YorkIthaca
Kavasutra New YorkNew YorkNew York
Village Kava BarNew YorkSmithtown
Noble Kava AshevilleNorth CarolinaAsheville
Noble Kava BooneNorth CarolinaBoone
KraveNorth CarolinaCarrboro
Krave Kava Bar GreensboroNorth CarolinaGreensboro
Vintage KavaNorth CarolinaWeaverville
Port City Vapor Kava & Oxygen BarNorth CarolinaWilmington
Kat 5 KavaNorth CarolinaWilmington
Wow-Wee Maui’s Kava Bar & GrillNorth CarolinaWilmington
LovaKava Kava Bar and RestaurantOregonEugene
Pono PlantOregonPortland
Bula Kava HouseOregonPortland
Nalu Kava BarOregonPortland
Kava KonnectionSouth CarolinaGreenville
SquareRut CongressTexasAustin
SquareRut LamarTexasAustin
Mad Hat TeaWashingtonTacoma
Kava KasaQuintana RooPlaya Del Carmen

 

Want to Try Kava At Home?

Kava bars are great, but it’s not feasible to visit these shops every other day. If you like kava and want to drink it more often, you’ll need to start making it on your own at home too.

You can order kava powder online and prepare your kava for a fraction of the price of a kava bar.

Before you make your purchase, check out our reviews of the most popular online kava brands.

If you’re new to kava and want a complete rundown, make sure to check out our ultimate kava guide.

Whether you’re a seasoned kava veteran, or just getting started for the very first time, Kava Guides has all the information you need to become a kava pro.