Owner (Photo: Joshua Alvarez)

Owner Lev Kelman. (Photo: Joshua Alvarez)

First the East Village got the city’s first kava bar and now comes its first hemp bar.

A large dark blue banner hangs just outside Brooklyn Dark Hemp Bar, amidst all the head shops on St. Marks Place. Earlier today, we found owner Lev Kelman setting out free samples of his ubiquitous Brooklyn Dark chocolate bars on the counter. Next to him, a coffee and espresso machine was primed and ready. Hemp chocolate brownies, pastries, and cookies were laid out on baking sheets in a small showcase on top of the counter.  A few hemp t-shirts were displayed on a red brick wall.

Wearing a green hemp t-shirt emblazoned with “YES WE HEMP” in gold letters, Kelman, a U.S. citizen with a warm Uzbek-Jewish accent, explained what led him to start producing Brooklyn Dark chocolate-hempseed bars three and a half years ago.

“The way it started was I was reading about hemp and marijuana and I realized hemp is a superfood. I saw there were hemp products like milk, cereal, health bars, but there was no hemp chocolate. People love chocolate, so might as well eat chocolate that is good for you, not like Hershey’s, that’ll poison you,” he said with a laugh.

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The growing popularity of Brooklyn Dark bars led Kelman to test the market for a hemp bar. He said he’s seen a few hempseed stores, but never a fully dedicated hemp cafe complete with hemp lattes, hemp tea, and “Rocket Fuel” (matte, hemp, and espresso). He considers the establishment, which opened its doors last month, a pop-up business. Depending on how business goes, the bar may shut down by the end of October.

The FDA still has not yet recognized hemp as a “Generally Recognized as Safe” ingredient for food and beverages. But reality on the ground has long since left those guidances behind.

Hemp pastries. (Photo: Joshua Alvarez)

Hemp pastries. (Photo: Joshua Alvarez)

“I mean, you can buy hemp seeds in Trader Joe’s. I don’t see why you can’t make hemp brownies, hemp chocolates, or hemp drinks. For thousands of years humans have been eating hemp seeds,” said Kelman.

According to Kelman, hemp boasts several health benefits. “It gives nutrition, it has omegas three, six, and nine. For vegans and vegetarians we don’t get those nutrients from fruits or vegetables, we get them from seeds and nuts,” he said. Hemp seeds also have a lot of fiber and it slows down sugar metabolism. 

Though hemp seeds come from the cannabis plant, which is also the source for marijuana, hemp contains negligible levels of THC–the stuff that gets you high. Though hemp seeds have traditionally been imported, last year New York passed the New York Hemp Law, which made industrial hemp production legal for research purposes.

Chocolate-hempseed bars. (Photo: Joshua Alvarez)

Chocolate-hempseed bars. (Photo: Joshua Alvarez)

Kelman supports the legalization of marijuana but is pessimistic legalization would happen under Governor Cuomo’s watch. “Governor Cuomo, who is miseducated or not educated about hemp, and even though he is Democratic but he has a Republican view on this thing, is just utterly–I can’t express enough how silly it is. It’s like a grown man giving childish excuses for not doing something that’s right.”

If Cuomo departs and makes room for legalization Kelman would love to expand into making edible marijuana products. “Theoretically speaking, I know how to make hashish chocolates. And they’re really fabulous,” he said, breaking into laughter. “I have a technology that is really different from most others. I’m from Uzbekistan, which borders Afghanistan. Culturally there were a lot of ways they were using [hashish] so I know how to properly use it.”

Brooklyn Dark Hemp Bar, 9 St. Marks Place, bet. Second and Third Ave., East Village, 800-222-9911; open Monday–Friday from 10am to 10pm, Saturday–Sunday from 11am to 10pm.