Imagine an open room with sand scattered around the entrance and a “no shirt, no shoes, no service” sign in front; next to the daily specials chalkboard. Ohana Kava Bar in downtown Colorado Springs lacks an ocean but still strives to bring a beach atmosphere to the otherwise sea-less space.
Composed of gentle blue- and yellow-stringed lights, the dim rooms promote a relaxing atmosphere for friends and strangers alike to enjoy something they may not have even heard of before: kava.
Grown in the Pacific Islands, the plants’ roots and stump are used to make a natural and non-alcoholic beverage. Kava has been used for religious ceremonies, medicinal purposes, and social events in the Pacific Islands for thousands of years. Today, it is treated as a natural supplement in most of the world and is completely legal, albeit with restrictions in some countries.
The effects of kava revolve around a sense of clear-headed relaxation. This includes social relaxation, reduced stress and anxiety, and increased calmness, euphoria, and sleepiness. As part of the pepper family, it also acts as an anesthetic, leaving a Novocain-like sensation on the lips after consumption.
Last month, Time Magazine released information of a new study that stated, “Any amount of drinking is bad for you.” In spirit of that article, this week’s column is about kava as an alternative for those who wish to go and get a drink with friends but are worried about the long-term effects of alcohol.
That being said, the United States has performed studies that say excessive consumption of kava could be related to liver issues, so moderation is recommended.
As for being able to experience kava, Ohana Kava Bar is the only kava bar in Colorado Springs. With surfboards on the walls and ceiling, shells, long tables, and room for six or seven guests at the bar, this place strives for beach vibes. There is also a chess table, plenty of games to play, and a bookshelf above the water station with information about kava.
Alongside all of these gentle and welcoming features, there are also some problems with Ohana. Between wood-carved masks on the wall and statements on their menu reading, “The Chief says, ‘Sit back and relax. Let the kava come to you,” I was curious as to who was profiting from Pacific Island indigenous cultures, particularly those of Hawaii.
“The owner actually grew up in Florida, and he was going to kava bars for a lot of his life,” Jenny, the bartender, said. The owner enjoyed kava and its properties so much he wanted to open his own bar, doing so with Ohana in 2015. Despite these intentions, it seems to profit from the historical and cultural aspects of kava, none of which are practiced in this space.
For example, one of their drinks, entitled the “ceremonial bowl,” contains enough kava for six people. While the act of dipping bowls, what they term “shells,” into the larger bowl felt like an event, kava is used in actual religious and social ceremonies in indigenous cultures of the Pacific Islands, which made the entire act appropriative. These may have been intended as a tribute to kava and its roots, but it comes off as an inauthentic ploy to make money.
Don’t get me wrong — everyone at Ohana was very welcoming and kind, but in consuming this drink, it is necessary to be conscious of its cultural aspects.
Thankfully, Ohana features many alternative options for kava drinks. They have fruit smoothies, lemonades, Bloody Mary, Piña colada mix, and more, including daily deals. One of my favorite deals is the Midnight $1 Cash Shell Slam: “Drink as many single shells of traditional kava in one minute as you wish. If you don’t finish [at least three] or vomit, you pay full price for all of them!” While I would not recommend this to first-timers, once you are accustomed to the taste, this would be an inexpensive way to get your kava fill.
Beyond the kava, they have kombucha, noni juice, non-kava teas, hot chocolate, coffee, and more on tap. There are also snacks if you are staying a while, in addition to plenty of products to take home.
The Kraken (with lavender):
The Kraken is the drink most recommended to those who have never had kava before. It is three servings of kava, which is approximately the amount needed to achieve the desired effects. One thing to note: kava is not renowned for its tastiness; it is earthy and bitter. Ohana has dozens of flavors you can add, but lavender was recommended to me. I suggest drinking the Kraken quickly because while the first sip might be sweet with lavender, the aftertaste is comparable to soggy cardboard. Jenny also recommends drinking it quickly, as the flavor to some people can be “just offensive.” While not the most palatable drink I’ve ever had, the strength of the drink causes your mouth to go numb quickly and the relaxing qualities come around 10 minutes later.
Mango smoothie with kava:
As far as smoothies go, this one is incredible. It’s a thicker smoothie that is refreshing and served chilled. While it may take a minute for it to thin out, the wait is worth it. It’s served with a piece of pineapple and includes a smaller amount of kava than the Kraken. This one Jenny recommended if you plan to stick around after trying the Kraken. Once you let your first drink settle, this is a sweet way to get the taste of the Kraken out of your mouth.