Kava and Chill: 5 Bars Serving the Polynesian Root That Will Mellow You Out

The controversial ingredient is showing up at new cafes and bars coast to coast.

Kava is having a moment on the mainland. The South Pacific plant has been praised for its sedative properties and touted as a relaxing and natural alternative for everything from alcohol to pain relievers to Xanax. The plant, often served as a drink, also been at the center of controversies concerning its safety, although a recent study found that it can relieve anxiety disorders and is safe if consumed in moderation. Meanwhile, bars and cafes serving kava are proliferating again around the U.S. For some, the ingredient is an acquired taste, but bars and cafes combine it with mixers like juices, flavored syrups and even chocolate to make tasty drinks. Here's where to try it:

Tropikava, Chicago

Kava has officially made its grand debut in Chicago! Come visit, we'd love to have you. #chicago #kava

A photo posted by Tropikava Kafe (@tropikavachicago) on

The Windy City is home to the country's newest kava lounge. The extensive menu offers a choice between traditional, Hawaiian, Fijian, Tongan and Vanuatan kava, all described in terms that evoke wine-tasting language. The cafe even serves a big bowl that groups can share — and bring their own alcohol to add in.

Bula Kava House, Portland

First time drinking this stuff #kava

A photo posted by Jansen degenstein (@jansen_dope) on

Portland's first kava bar sells varieties from Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea and Fiji as well as fresh juice blends such as the Spicy Hipster (orange, jalapeno, pear, kale, cilantro and lime). A recurring open mic night brings community musicians into the house. The company also sells kava online if you don't have a cafe near you.

Kavasutra, New York City, Denver and various locations in Florida

A photo posted by @unbeerdedbrewer on

New York City debuted an outpost of Kavasutra, which also has four locations in Florida and one in Denver, in 2015, a first for Manhattan. It's an ideal spot to dip your toe into the kava waters if you're afraid of the "earthy" taste, since you can get it blended into a virgin margarita, strawberry daiquiri or pina colada — or dive straight into a shell of concentrated kava.

Kava Lounge, San Francisco

"Kava and chill" is becoming a new mantra in San Francisco, thanks to this two-month-old cafe, the city's first. Maybe that's because, in addition to kava, you can also order a tea made from damiana, a shrub said to be an aphrodisiac.

MeloMelo Kava Bar, Berkeley

Of course, the first kava bar in the Bay Area was started in Berkeley. University of California students and local residents come here to take the edge off of their day with kava drinks (including one with orange-flavored kava extract, coconut milk and cinnamon) and a unique line of kava-infused truffles, chocolate bars and candies. The bar also sells kava powder and tinctures for preparing your own at home.

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