After months of renovation, the East Village’s first kava bar is officially open and offering its kava teas, cold brew coffee and other novel drinks you may have never encountered before like Relaxinol, a liquid relaxation aid containing melatonin and other sleep supplements, which is for sale by the can.
When we walked in early Tuesday evening the newly installed 10-person bar, with its sleek black top and bamboo siding, was about half filled with a diverse group of patrons, many of whom wandered in out of curiosity and ended up staying for a cup of murky brown tea garnished with pineapple. Bartender Chris (Chopper) Ludwig was more than happy to repeat his practiced speech about the effects of kava for each new customer, offering details about how it’s made and the different types the bar has to offer.
“First you’ll feel it numbing your mouth, and then you’ll feel a nice relaxation without the mind-muddying effects of alcohol,” he said. Drink more than one cup and it has a low-strength muscle relaxing effect. Drink too much and you might stumble getting down from your stool. He told one story of a man who had one too many and ended up outside the bar, swerving and bumping into parked cars as he paced and talked on the cell phone (he wasn’t allowed to down more than three cups at once after that). Ludwig added that it’s also popular among alcoholics who miss the social aspects of the bar.
Three of Kavasutra’s five locations are in Florida, where kava has grown in popularity over the last few years as part of the beach culture, Ludwig said. “People here really enjoy the kava all natural, with nothing in it,” said Ludwig, the shop’s manager. “People in Florida like it all flavored up and drink it for the effect.”
Kava tea is made by emulsifying the kava plant into a powder, which the bar does in-house. Ludwig then mixes the powder with water to create multi-gallon plastic jugs of cloudy brown liquid. Traditionally the earthy, bitter drink is chugged in one gulp, Ludwig said. For those who don’t like the flavor, the bar offers kava smoothies made with fresh fruit and shots as well, like this one made with coconut water, coconut syrup, a squeeze of lemon and powdered kava, with a lime garnish.
The “Mr. Nice Guy” brand, emblazoned across the cans of Relaxinol, is associated with a synthetic marijuana ring that led to prison time for Kavasutra’s owner, Dylan Harrison, confirmed Josh, an employee of the bar who declined to give his last name. In 2013, Harrison was sentenced to one year in federal prison after one of his warehouses in West Palm Beach exploded in the process of making the drug, which was marketed as “herbal incense” and made available for purchase in convenience stores.
“[Relaxinol] is connected to the old synthetic marijuana, but it’s completely different,” Josh said. “It’s karmic redemption. The other stuff was bad, and this is good and all natural.” According to the Orlando Sentinel, the main ingredients listed on the can are 5-HTP, GABA, L-Theanine, L-Threonine, L-Tryphtophan, chamomile, flower extract, valerian root extract, and melatonin.
Ludwig stressed that Kavasutra does not serve alcohol and that it’s a bad idea to combine the two. But no matter: one of kava’s biggest benefits is its function as a social lubricant, he said, and to foster the traditional communal spirit of imbibing in the drink, the bar has instituted a $1 cup of kava for one minute at 1 p.m. and 1 a.m. on the dot. The idea is that people will show up a few minutes early. By the time the hour strikes a group has assembled, and they all cheers and drink together. Kavasutra has happy hour every day from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. when the tea is half off its usual price of $6 per cup.
Kavasutra, 261 East 10th Street, between First Avenue and Avenue A. Open every day 11 a.m. to 2 a.m.