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What is a Kava Bar?


Whether you’ve read about it online or heard it mentioned by friends, if you’re the type that enjoys a good drink, odds are, you’ve found yourself wondering: what is a kava bar?

A kava bar is an establishment that serves kava drinks, which are made from the South Pacific pepper plant of the same name. The drink is not alcoholic or hallucinogenic, but instead acts as a relaxant and even sedative, reducing anxiety.

In this article we’ll cover not only what a kava bar is, but what kava is, what the scene is like at a kava bar, and what you can expect to find if you decide to visit one!

What’s a Kava Bar?

A Kava bar is a bar or lounge that serves kava in a drinkable form. They originated in the South Pacific, along with the kava plant itself, in Vanuatu. There they were called Nakamal, a traditional meeting area where communities could come together and conduct ceremonies while drinking kava.

Gradually, the traditional reasons for meeting at Nakamals became less prominent and they started functioning more primarily as a place to prepare and serve kava, as well as drink it in groups. With the increased popularity of kava thanks to its effects and properties, kava bars no longer only exist in the South Pacific.

Instead, serene, community-centered establishments selling kava known as kava bars have begun popping up in other countries including the United States. US Kava Bars sell and serve Kava in the traditional form, as well as flavored kava, Kratom, Kombucha, etc. 

What's Kava?

If you’re really going to understand Kava bars, you’ll need to know everything you can about kava itself! Kava is known by many names: waka, kawa, yarona, lewena, and even grog are a few of these.

However, all of these names refer to the same thing: a type of substance that is formed out of the stump of a shrub. The shrub’s Latin name is “Piper methysticum.” This name translates to “intoxicating pepper,” while the word “kava” actually means “bitter, which is how kava taste.

The kava shrub can be found in the Pacific Islands. It was initially discovered and used by the Austronesian Lapita, who spread it throughout Polynesia and Hawaii. These people groups chewed the plant or brewed it in order to enjoy it’s psychoactive properties.

Kava Shrub

Kava Root & Kavalactones

The plant’s root, which is what is used when it is ingested, contains water, dietary fiber, starch, sugar, minerals, and protein. It also contains a compound, uniquely named “kavalactone,” which is what causes slight sedative, anxiolytic, psychotropic, and even hypnotic effects.

Kava is usually harvested when the roots are mature, which doesn’t happen until at least four years after being planted. The root comes in two pieces: crown root, which looks like chips, and lateral roots, which look a lot like any other plant root. 

The roots are either chewed or ground up and prepared with water throughout the cultures of the Pacific Ocean. Sometimes an extract is made by putting droplets of this into a buttermilk and starch mixture until the resulting liquid is a grayish-green. Nowadays, the South Pacific islander communities drink kava in its liquid form recreationally as well as traditionally.

The kava drink has sleep enhancing and anxiety-reducing qualities. It’s effects are enjoyed as legal dietary supplements in most countries, or in kava bars as a beverage!

No Alcohol Nancy

What a Kava Bar is Not:


When people who don’t know what Kava is, hear Kava Bar, assume it’s a Coffee Bar and/or Alcohol bar. Far from it. Let’s break down a few of the misconceptions related to kava and kava bars in the list below:


  • Kava Bars have NO ALCOHOL – Kava and alcohol don’t mix, so almost all Kava bars don’t serve alcohol and often prohibit alcohol on site. 
  • Kava Bars Are Legal – Because of it’s little-known origins and rumors that kava is not safe (I’m looking at you BIG pharma PR team), some may falsely believe that kava bars are illegal, much like speakeasys. Kava is 100% legal in the US. 
  • Kava Bars Aren’t For Hallucinating – While kava’s compounds do have psychotropic effects, that’s different from hallucinogenic affects: hallucinogens can cause you to see things that aren’t there, while psychotropic compounds like the ones in kava only affect mood and mental states. Kava is meant to lower anxiety and create a sense of calm.

Now that you’re aware of some of the debunked misconceptions about a Kava bar, we can move on to understanding what to expect should you visit a kava bar!

What to Expect at a Kava Bar

If you’re planning on visiting a kava bar for the first time, especially if you’ve just had some myths about the experience debunked, you may feel like you’re going in blind. Not to worry! 

When visiting a kava bar, you’ll find yourself surrounded by people looking for a sense of calm, community, and enjoyment, as well as culture! Let’s take a look at some of the ways this is accomplished.

Who Goes to Kava Bars?

When getting ready to visit any trendy place, it’s natural to wonder what kind of crowd you’ll be encountering. In the history of kava’s liquid form, communities in places like Vanuatu and Fiji would come to kava bars to celebrate notable occasions and traditions. This is still the case today, though in the US, some of the traditional aspect of kava crowds is lost.

Instead, you’ll usually find people who are looking to relax, calm down, and chill out. Unlike crowds in a bar or the high-energy groups of people that go clubbing, think of kava bars like an even-more-relaxed coffee shop!

All Kava bars cater to adult (18+) audiences. Some Kava bars, like Ka-Va Kava Bar in Brooklyn, New York, allow children but insist that they be accompanied by a legal guardian. However, this means that kids actually are allowed in most kava bars because kava is not legally regulated. So, you may find some whole families enjoying a calm moment in a kava bar!


Why People Go to Kava Bars

So if people aren’t going to kava bars for some kind of high, a buzz, or a way to drown their sorrows, why do they go to kava bars? It’s a fair question!

People tend to go to kava bars to experience the unique effects of the kava drink. These include:

  • Stress Reduction – The kavalactones in kava beverages are not only used to help people sleep, but can relax the stress-response of the brain, leaving customers feeling calm and refreshed. In some cultures, kava is  even used as an anti-anxiety medication!
  • Social Relaxation – If you’re a bit of an introvert, or if you simply find yourself suffering from social anxiety, going to a kava bar might be a good way to come out of your shell! This is because one of kava’s natural effects is to lower stress, and the kava bar’s atmosphere carries on the Pacific tradition of fostering community in a calm environment.
  • Muscle Relaxation – When you enjoy a kava drink at a kava bar, the active ingredients in the root powder of the plant can act as a muscle relaxant. This is another great benefit for people who need to unwind not just emotionally, but physically, carrying a lot of tension in their body.
  • Help Sleeping – Kava acts as a sedative thanks to the unique compound it produces, kavalactone. Kavalactone has been proven by health experts to work as a mild sedative. In properly prepared drinks, like those found at high-end kava bars, kava can help people to get the rest they need!
  • No Hangover – Although kava does relax you and make you feel, in a word, better, it does not have the often-negative consequences of alcohol. This is because kava drinks leave you feeling ready to go to sleep, and when you wake up, you experience no headaches or nausea as a result.
  • Chill Atmosphere – As mentioned above, the most accurate way to envision the inside of a kava bar in the West would be to picture a very cozy coffee shop. Because kava-serving baristas know that the beverage relaxes customers, the seating is often cushier, the lighting is low, and even music is very soft. 

What Do People Do at Kava Bars?

People in Kava community are usually relaxed, in a word! Thanks to the effects of the drinks mentioned above, the most common thing you’ll find people doing at a kava bar is enjoying their fresh kava shells over calm conversation or other relaxing activities. Similar to coffee shops, you’ll also find patrons on their laptops working from Kava bars, ourselves included. 

Most Kava bars also have events that changes up environment and vibe such as open mic nights, karaoke trivia, bingo, pool/billiard tournaments, live music, holiday parties, kavaween parties,  etc. 

Ps. You will occasionally hear people shouting “BULA” before drinking their Kava. This is totally normal. 

Where to Find a Kava Bar

After reading about the benefits and atmosphere of kava bars, you might be ready to go out and try to experience it for yourself. If that’s the case, the best place to find a Kava bar is! Find the best kava bars near you and enjoy a calming and relaxing Kava shell.