May 10, 2024 - Food and Drink

We tried Virginia's first kava bar, KavaClub, and you should too

A picture of the words "KAVA CLUB" on a wall and then bright orange pillows and sofa with pillows and plants around it

KavaClub got the OK to start serving kava on April 27 — 14 months after it announced plans to open. Photo: Sabrina Moreno/Axios

Virginia's first kava bar is now open and serving up the psychoactive and mildly intoxicating tea in Richmond.

Why it matters: It took KavaClub a court battle with the Virginia Department of Health and more than a year to start serving the tea — and it can only do so now with a litany of VDH-mandated restrictions.

State of play: A plant cousin to kratom — the stimulant advertised in neon vape shop windows — kava is a Polynesian plant root ground into tea that's said to give drinkers a mild euphoria.

The big picture: Owners announced plans in February 2023 to open the state's first kava bar in the former Canon & Draw brewery space at 1529 W. Main St. in the Fan District, BizSense reported.

  • Citing a lack of FDA approval, VDH denied KavaClub's permit application; the club appealed the decision and went back and forth with VDH in court filings before agreeing to a settlement in March 2024.

Under the settlement terms, KavaClub can only serve folks 21 and older and must display a sign that says the drink is "mildly intoxicating and psychoactive."

  • It cannot serve the tea mixed in with other beverages, like mocktails, and it cannot serve kratom, as it intended to do.
  • KavaClub also cannot advertise the drink as an alternative to alcohol, which is one of the biggest reasons the drink is seeing an increase in popularity in the U.S. and the marketing most bars use in other states, per Food & Wine.
two brown drinks
Straight kava, baby. Karri got the big one and then a small one. Like a fool. Photo: Karri Peifer/Axios

Zoom in: The club finally got the greenlight to serve two weeks ago and we — Karri and Sabrina — got in there ASAP to see what all the fuss was about.

  • The revamped former brewery is bright and welcoming with plenty of seating, a pool table and board games for folks looking to linger.

On the menu: Mocktails ($8-$9), kombucha from Richmond's Ninja Kombucha ($7) and kava tea, 4 oz. in a shell ($8) or a chaser shot with a mocktail, $12 for both.

Pro tip: Get the chaser shot with a mocktail, take a few sips of the mocktail and then pour in the kava, which is bitter-tasting on its own.

Worth noting: The effects usually last for two to three hours, according to experts, but can last up to 24 hours in some instances.

A hand holding up a cocktail in front of a plant wall that has "bula!" as a  neon sign
"Bula" means hello or welcome in Fijian. Photo: Sabrina Moreno/Axios

Karri's thought bubble: I had no idea what to expect, but prepared like I was going to battle, telling my friends and family I loved them and alerting my boyfriend he might need to give me a ride home.

  • The Kava experience is not a battle, it is chill. Its effects are reminiscent of another plant-derived substance that is in fact legal in Virginia, just not to buy in a store or certainly not in a bar.
  • I definitely felt relaxed and vaguely happy for the rest of the night — and until about noon the next day. (Sorry, bosses!)

Sabrina's thought bubble: FINALLY a place with a solid mocktail menu. I was obsessed with the blueberry mojito and the passionfruit mule, both of which easily concealed kava's taste.

  • The best way to describe the feeling: giddy, happy and as if you found out your favorite recently canceled TV show was making a comeback.
a cool looking room with lounge chairs and a bush wall
It's vibes, folks. Vibes. Photo: Karri Peifer/Axios

The bottom line: KavaClub is worth checking out for yourself, especially if you're into mocktails or chill vibes. Just plan your evening — and maybe your next morning if you did a 4 oz. and a chaser — accordingly.

If you go: KavaClub is open Wednesday through Saturday, noon-10 pm and Sunday, noon-8pm.

  • There's no food on the menu yet, but stay tuned for Soul Taco when they get the VDH OK and check out Instagram to see their stellar events lineup.
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