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What is a Kava Bar?

By R. Roberson
Updated: Mar 03, 2024

Kava is a drink containing water mixed with the crushed root of a pepper plant found in the South Pacific. It traditionally is the only drink served at a kava bar, an establishment that typically tries to provide a relaxing environment for patrons to connect with one another on a spiritual level, similar to the way kava is used in South Pacific island ceremonies honoring marriages, births and deaths. Often served in coconut bowls, kava is alcohol-free, but it induces a feeling of sleepiness, a relaxation of the body and muscles and a heavy feeling on the tongue.

Bars and clubs provide a chance for social gatherings and a way to unwind during special occasions or after a long day. Over the years, variations on traditional bars have taken place, such as the evolution of coffee bars, sushi bars and kava bars. Many people believe the concept of the kava bar originated in Vanuatu, an island nation located in the South Pacific.

Patrons of all ages and backgrounds frequent kava bars, as there is no age limit requirement because alcohol is not served. Early kava bars consisted of a group of people gathering under a large shade tree or tin-roofed shed, but the modern, upscale kava bars strive for a tropical vibe designed to help customers feel as if they are lounging in a tiki hut in the South Pacific. Many kava bars play reggae and tribal music to add to the authenticity of the environment.

Kava bar patrons typically are encouraged not to drink alcohol after consuming a kava beverage, because of the relaxing effects of the drink. Kava bar menus sometimes include different types of kava, depending on potency and taste levels. There is difference between the beverages served in kava bars and the herbal supplements that are sold in health stores and websites and touted to ease anxiety, insomnia and stress levels. Kava supplements and extracts have varying levels of concentration and contain different additives. The kava used in bars is sold in its purest form.

The existence of kava bars is not without controversy. The United States Food and Drug Administration has warned drinkers of a possible link between kava consumption and liver failure, though studies that indicate possible liver toxicity have mostly been based on consuming the whole plant, rather than just the root, which is how kava was traditionally consumed. Kava bar owners often post signs warning that kava could affect a patron’s motor skills and ability to drive, and there have been instances of drivers arrested for being under the influence of kava.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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