The things people will do for a buzz.
By the time we stumbled on the dark slip of an East Village Kava bar on a recent trip to New York City, I'll admit to already having consumed several rounds of drinks. Admittedly, this isn't the ideal way to drink Kava, a viscous tea that Pacific Islanders have purportedly been drinking for centuries as a mild relaxant.
But the signage boldly declared: "Alcohol is so 2014! Try Kava!"
Never one to shrink from a challenge, I went in.
The place looked like a low-pro bar, no big expense had been spent on decor save for a few TV's exhibiting beautiful mountain and sea scapes, ostensibly for zoning out, man.
While I've never set foot in one of those oxygen bars (I can get that for free, thanks very much) it reminded me of what one would probably be like. Sort of boring and antiseptic, a guy administering the goods more than behaving like a jovial host the way most bartenders would.
With no real fanfare, the guy served up the first "shot" sort of a viscous mixture he scooped out of a plastic bucket with a ladle, and served it to us in a cup that resembled the mortar end of a mortar and pestle. It came garnished with a wedge of pineapple, tequila and lime style, to take away the bitter edge. He did one with us, with the toast "Bula!" a Fijian declaration akin to the Hawaiian Aloha.
A taste and texture sort of like that powdered dietary fiber you mix into water, it was neither great nor disgusting. I've had worse things in my mouth by far, but then, you would never drink it strictly for flavor, either. We took advantage of the pineapple.
We had been told the first shot would be gratis, $5 after that. That's because the first one is essentially ineffective. We didn't feel anything.
A second shot, and we didn't care if we felt anything or not. There's no way I could stomach another, and certainly not another after that.
We paid the guy and went back into the sultry nighttime streets of New York.
But then an interesting thing happened. I started to feel sort of floaty and spaced out. The breeze flapped the fabric of my dress around my skin and it felt delicious. The city streets, though hot and smelly in the July air were suddenly beautiful and sleek like a painting. And while I would have normally wanted to stop off for one more nightcap before turning in, I had no such urge. We chatted all the way home in a sort of happy, loosey- goosey, worry-free trance.
It was mild. The girl sitting next to us at the Kava bar told us to think of it like a mild Valium, and I'd say that's about right. And ideally, next time, I'd like to have it without the murk of booze in my system to see what it feels like unfettered.
In the middle of the night, we both woke up with a bit of a start. What was that strange concoction we ingested just because some charlatan on the street said we should? Was it even regulated?
For the most part, health concerns about the tea, derived from the root of a plant in the pepper family have been put to rest, though its' advisable not to consume it if you already have liver problems (or if you've been drinking— whoops). A smattering of legal Kava bars have been operating around the country since 2002, but they're still relatively scarce. And for now, you'll have to travel to get loose on Kava— Kavasutra, the place I drank, and the only outpost in New York, has only been open a few weeks.
Otherwise, you'll have to go to Hawaii, California, Florida, North Carolina, Colorado (duh) or Texas. And, there's an interesting marketing aspect to Kava— on the west coast in island areas, the stuff is marketed to chill you out. In New York, it's offered as an alcohol alternative to help you stay up all night (nobody wants to chill out in NYC, obviously).
So why would a Minnesotan want Kava? To keep warm from the inside out, perhaps. No word yet on whether Kava will be traveling to the tundra anytime soon.