Troutman Street between Evergreen and Central Avenues in Bushwick is a block awash with construction. Jackhammers, scaffolding, and dust make their home alongside the bar Precious Metal, an auto shop, and the notorious dorm-like apartment complex Castle Braid. One of the newest additions to the block is Ambrosia Elixirs, a cafe, event space, and “home for plant medicine” that’s taken up residence in a small storefront, fittingly flanked by a large, leafy tree.
While they’ve been popping up in the nightlife scene at places like JunXion, BAE, and the Elements Festival, this is Ambrosia’s first dedicated brick-and-mortar space. They initially secured the space at 109 Troutman Street in October 2017, but construction made it difficult to proceed quickly. After some delays, they officially opened on July 17.
Despite their proximity to Burning Man types, Ambrosia wasn’t started by someone with spare cash and a trendy interest in spirituality but by someone who has been steeping in knowledge of herbs her whole life. Valeria de la Pava, Ambrosia’s founder, was born in Colombia near the Amazon and comes from a lineage of curanderas, or traditional healers from Latin America.
“Most of the things I know come from my mom and my grandma,” explains Valeria. “That’s how it naturally started. It’s more a family thing.” Later, she moved to New York and spent time in Oregon and California, where she learned about plants from a more scientific perspective. Upon returning to New York, she noticed out of all the cafes and bars in Brooklyn, none offered the type of herbal drinks she grew up with. “So [I was] like, ok, let’s start doing that and bringing it to the community. It was an experiment,” she says.
Valeria’s first event as Ambrosia Elixirs was around two years ago, a more casual endeavor for friends. “We didn’t have a full plan. It started growing very fast when we started doing festivals,” Valeria notes. “I don’t know how we did it. Every weekend, different places. Since the beginning, [we wanted to be] grounded in one place. Now we have a lease and the house in the back, so we control everything.”
Around the same time Ambrosia began work on their brick-and-mortar, they also started Nymphaea, their “sister bar” within the John Street location of The Assemblage, a co-working, co-living space the New York Times profiled under the headline “Soho House, But Make It Enlightened.” Nymphaea has since garnered attention from the likes of Refinery29.
After a stint as Ambrosia’s Head of Operations in Bushwick, Rebecca Antsis now manages The Assemblage’s elixir bar. A former yoga studio manager with a theater production background, she met de la Pava in 2017 at the festival Gratitude Migration, and moved from Philadelphia to New York to work with Ambrosia. “I saw Valeria and Ambrosia and it was like a dream,” she said.
Ambrosia doesn’t just do business in the city; they also maintain a pop-up bar at The Reliquarium, a Rhode Island-based arts organization that has provided sculptures and decor for Ambrosia’s Bushwick space. Though they’re scaling down on offsite events, on any given evening you can expect their backyard, with its herb garden and beehive, to be lively with events from yoga and cacao ceremonies to DJ sets and parties.
But of course, there are the drinks—everything’s made in-house, save for their milks. “A lot of the recipes and drinks are from a lot of plants from [South America], from the Amazon, because that’s what I worked more with,” explains Valeria. “But I’m trying to implement more local plants. Actually having the store, we can have people bring in more [plants] from upstate.” Even common weeds like dandelion and nettle have their uses.
Ambrosia’s offerings range from the familiar—an oat milk matcha latte with lavender or a kava-based chai—to the more obscure, such as bitter Colombian cacao and a drink of blue lotus and jasmine. Valeria pairs what she calls “superfood balls” with many of the drinks, bite-sized creations like mango, goji berry, turmeric, and coconut spheres to be snacked on while sipping hemp “golden milk” (ashwagandha, turmeric, chai spice, local honey). They’ve also started serving vegan ice cream and savory “botanical edibles.” Between elixirs, I’m given water spritzed with extract of the Mexican root chilcuague, meant to cleanse the palate like ginger with sushi.
Patrons new to the world of herbal drinks are recommended to start with something simple like tea, Valeria says. Ideally it’s a sit-down experience (no plastic to-go cups or laptop work)—they discuss how the person is feeling and what they are looking for. “If it’s someone just coming and leaving, then we work with adaptogens always,” she says. “If the person is very down or very up, it’s going to always bring them to center. It’s good for everyone.”
Adaptogens are balancing herbs and plants, such as Tulsi holy basil and the chaga mushroom, used in many cultures, including the ancient Indian medical system ayurveda. Some may know them through buzzed-about LA company Moon Juice. Valeria gives me an “adaptogen tonic”: tropical fruit guanábana; Chinese herb astragalus; eleuthero, known as Siberian ginseng; popular adaptogenic herb ashwagandha. It’s fruity and pleasant. I can’t tell if it’s chemically balancing or if the intimate experience of being personally served something new is doing all the work. Either way, it’s nice.
“I think a way that helps contextualize Ambrosia is the idea that you go to a bar, you go to a cafe for an experience. There are millions of plants. The coffee bean and distilled spirits are only two. So why not open yourself to so many of these other types of experiences and medicines?” Antsis says. “And also I just think there’s a growing sober community in the world, and people are, pun intended, thirsty for alternative culture.”
Ambrosia Elixirs is located at 109 Troutman Street, and is open Tuesday through Thursday, 8 am – 11 pm; Friday through Saturday, 11 am – 2 am; and Sunday, 11am – 8 pm.