By Shanna Fujii
Downtown Phoenix is chock-full of things to do. You can easily find tasty bites at local restaurants, specialty cocktails during happy hour, or colorful murals that scale building walls scattered throughout the area. But, when it comes to having a truly one-of-a-kind experience? Lacuna Kava Bar is the front runner.
As you step into Lacuna Kava Bar, you’re transported into a tropical paradise in the desert.. The plant wall, natural wood, calming colors, and range of music – from island to pop – all add to the unique vibe, but it’s truly the culture of kava – and the people who gather here – that make for a matchless experience.
As the first kava bar in Phoenix, owner Chase Brendle feels it is his responsibility to educate the public about kava and its benefits, as well as creating a positive and healthy environment for the community. We sat with Brendle and talked over a cup of kratom to learn all about kava, from its culture to how it’s making its mark in the heart of the arts district.
How did you come up with the name Lacuna Kava Bar?
“Lacuna” by definition means a space, gap, or hiatus. I think that really speaks to the context of what a kava bar is. We take that part of the day where you would normally take a hiatus and use it to create a community where people come together and connect. It’s one of the few places where you’ll find people actually talk to people they don’t know at the bar.
This is my first time hearing about kava and I’m sure I’m not the only one. Can you explain what kava is?
Kava is an ancient and exotic ceremonial tea. It’s been used for over 3,000 years in South Pacific island tribes like Fiji and Hawaii. You might make a big bowl of kava for everyone to share and commune during ceremonial rituals or welcoming a guest or traveler into your home.
Kava itself is from the pepper plant piper methisticum which means “enchanting or intoxicating pepper.” It will give you a very relaxed or euphoric feeling through your whole body and has been called “nature’s Xanax.” We also serve kratom, which is an evergreen tree from the coffee plant family. Kratom is from places like Thailand, Indonesia, and Malaysia and will give you a more energetic or uplifting experience.
How is kava and kratom prepared?
All of our products are laboratory tested with a certificate of analysis telling us they’re free from any contaminants. We also receive an alkaloid profile telling us how strong it is so we can brew it accordingly.
To make the traditional tea, kava is strained using purified water. Depending on where it’s from, there are different strains or varieties. Tongan kava offers a socializing and talkative effect, Fijian kava has a euphoric headiness to it, whereas Vanuatu kava has a heavier, peppery taste that is more sedative. For kratom, we steep it using purified water. There are also different strains. There’s red which is relaxing, green which is in between, white is for flight or energy, and yellow is for a more euphoric feeling.
Naturally, kava has an earthy taste and kratom’s natural leaf is very bitter. A lot of places serve it the traditional way. We do as well, but we also offer mocktails that mix kava or kratom with other ingredients like fresh fruit juice, coconut milk, or organic syrups.
What is the culture behind kava like?
I’ve been spending a lot of time at the local kalapus or Fijian, Samoan, and Tongan mixing clubs. I think it’s important to respect and honor the different cultures and traditions of kava. For example, you can’t cross your arms when you’re pouring kava because it’s bad luck. In Tongan or Samoan culture, if you hear two loud claps, that’s the signal to serve up another shell of kava.
The Polynesian community has a very tight-knit structure where everybody takes care of each other. I’m not an islander, but they’ve been very accepting because they see I want to learn about the culture and properly respect and share what they’ve created.
For you personally, what has been your best kava bar experience?
Before I moved to Arizona, I owned a crossfit gym in Florida. It was my first business and I had spent more time with those people than I had with my own family over the past five years. The day I sold it was an emotional one. After I signed the papers, I went to my friend’s kava bar really questioning if I did the right thing. My friend saw the look on my face when I came in. He walked over with a coconut shell full of kava and said, “Here. This one’s on me. You look like you need it.” You don’t get relationships like that too often. It really goes to show you that the people you meet in places like this become your tribe.
How would you describe the people of Roosevelt Row?
It’s a very creative, open, and accepting community. The amount of support we’ve received from people has been incredible. From our performing artists to our social media…people see what we’re doing, appreciate the experience, and want to share and support so other people get a chance to feel and experience what they do when they come here.
For someone who has never been to Roosevelt Row, where is one place you think they should visit?
Do I have to say one place? Honestly, the experience of walking around here is what I’d recommend. There are so many good places from The Churchill to the sandwiches at Jobot Coffee & Bar. There are so many amazing things to try and see. I don’t recommend having a single destination in mind when you arrive. From the murals, to the different restaurants, to the art galleries…there is a lot of life down here to be experienced.
After the interview, I got to try kava and kratom for myself. The experience was so unique that I’ve brought multiple groups of people back to Lacuna Kava Bar so they can have their own experience. I can say with confidence that what Brendle said is true; you can sit at the bar and talk with people you don’t know. After bringing a friend to Lacuna for the first time, we sat next to someone with a Fijian background and conversed for the rest of the night. If you’ve never tried kava or kratom or are just looking for a unique experience in downtown Phoenix, I’d definitely recommend giving Lacuna Kava Bar a shot.
ABOUT LACUNA KAVA BAR
Your urban oasis located in the heart of downtown Phoenix and the Roosevelt Row Arts District, Lacuna Kava Bar is one of a kind and the only place to get real, freshly brewed kava, kratom, and CBD tea in Phoenix, Arizona. Visit lacunakavabar.com to learn more
ABOUT AUTHOR SHANNA FUJII
Shanna Fujii is a colorful wordsmith published on GoDaddy, Arizona Foothills, Phoenix Children’s Hospital, and more. When she’s not busy adding spice to copy for clients, she’s checking things off her bucket list, running her philanthropic streetwear brand,Honey & Misfits, or writing and producing short films. She’s a french fry connoisseur and will never be caught without a pair of worn-in Converse. Connect with her on LinkedIn.