History of Kava Bars in the United States

The story starts many years ago with one man from New Caledonia who noticed that there were no places where people could meet, relax, and socialize that did not serve alcohol. The lack of an evening place for young adults, (18 to 21 yrs.,) to “hang out” was particularly notable. He had the idea to bring something that had first appeared in the end of the 1980’s in New Caledonia, – Kava Bars. Originating in Vanuatu, these Nakamals (as they are called there) were traditional places where only men would drink Kava at the after the day’s labors were finished, to talk about all important matter and make decision.

Over time people began to build true Kava Bars which were open to everyone, women and men. Throughout the many Polynesian Cultures, Kava is a drink of peace and happiness, mellowing the mood without clouding the judgment. Serving in much the same way as the neighborhood bar or pub in Western Culture, the Kava Bars of Vanuatu served as place for people to gather and relax after a long day of work. Kava eases social tensions and brings people together across barriers. The man decides to open a Kava Bar but the first people he speaks to about it tell him: “…it is the stupidest thing [I] have ever heard, Americans will never drink a brew made from a root that looks and tastes like mud.” The man from New Caledonia persists and with investors open the first Kava Bar in the Continental United States in 2002. It was located in Boca Raton, Florida and was decorated with art from the indigenous cultures of the South Pacific and designed to recreate the ambiance of the islands.

Around the same time in Hawaii Kava Bars were also being opened. There however, the Awa (as Kava is called in Hawaii) was a traditional drink used for millennia as a ceremonial drink. The Hawaiian Kava Bars, much like those in Fiji, were places of ceremony and organized gathering places, not a casual stop on the way home. later the was changed to “Nakava” and the name Trade Marked. The Nakava also supplied Kava to a Kava Bar that opened a few years later, The Purple Lotus in West Palm Beach, and a few other in the Florida cities of: Deerfield Beach, Fort Lauderdale, Hollywood, and Delray Beach. The first true Kava Bar on Florida’s west coast opened in 2009 in St. Petersburg. This first continental Kava Bar was originally called “Nakamal” but On U.S. West Coast there were a few locally owned Fijian Stores that sold Kava to the Fijian communities living in the area for many years. Same has Polynesian (Samoan and Tongan) community that gathers to drink Kava on Sunday after church. These were not truly Kava Bars. Kava Bars had also sprung up in California starting in 2012, San Diego, Sacramento, and San Francisco all gained Kava Bars in their turn. Texas; Arizona; New York; Colorado; North Carolina; Oregon; Louisiana; and New Mexico have joined Florida, Hawaii, and California as homes to Kava Bars.

There are still many states without Kava Bars, giving many opportunities for someone to be the “first” in their state. In order concentration, Florida, Hawaii, and California have the most Kava Bars in the United States. In the last 6 years Kava Bars have sprouted in several states, Much in the way coffee shops exploded into main stream Americana with the Starbucks chain, Kava Bars are poised to be the next big thing. Soon there will be Kava Bars in all 50 states and every major metropolitan area.