By John Clark
BULA! Echoes through the warehouse style building tucked away in Gulfport Florida. As you walk up you hear the tick tack of ping-pong, the chatter of conversation, and the sounds of a guitar in the back of the building. You see no sign, but an established following. You see a secret place, where the brave and curious go. This is Low Tide Kava Bar at 2902A Beach Blvd. in Gulfport where everyone is shooting back cold shots of strong mud tasting… well mud, but they call it Kava.
Kava, a South Pacific island drink mainly used in ceremonies throughout Vanuatu, Fiji, and other south pacific islands has been used for hundreds of years. In America, it’s becoming a very popular alternative to alcohol. “The kava community is constantly growing. I am so happy that the word is spreading fast about kava and that so many people love it and have such a great passion for it,” said Sean Simpson, owner of Low Tide Kava Bar, patron, and involved in the community for almost 6 years.
It is being used as a natural way to deal with anxiety, focusing, sports injuries, and many other ailments. Recent studies from the university of Minnesota may show that kava prevent the development of smoke related lung cancer. In the United States bars have been popping up in many states making a thriving business selling kava and making a safe community. Kava is non-addictive and safe alternative to alcohol. And there’s no hangover!
When you drink kava at the bar it is prepared as a brewed tea. The feeling of the high amount of relaxation they call muddy because of the earthy taste that few call tasty and the active ingredients in kava causes a minor numbing for an interesting sensation. And it’s also a diuretic so in large amounts it can cause dry skin. Kava is perfectly safe used responsibly; kava should not be used with alcohol, and kava should not be used with certain medications. Unlike alcohol kava has no hangover as long as you hydrate properly.
“We have students from SPC, USF, Stetson, and Eckerd College that enjoy using kava to help them study” says Sean Simpson. There’s a rise in students and even teachers in the kava community because of the laid back but still sociable environment. When you walk into a kava bar, because of its diversity and eclectic group, there’s no surprise that you will see someone tutoring math, giving advice, or just someone willing help with homework or a paper. The bars don’t get too loud through the day and there’s free internet to use which makes for an environment that brings peace to a study room that’s not the library or sitting at home alone. “Kava would help with test anxiety” said William Gascoyne, bartender at Bula Kafe in St. Pete. Adding “of course you can get too relaxed”. William was referring to the feeling of being too relaxed, so everything is in moderation. “It’s also a great place to wind down and take stress away from the school work,” Sean Simpson says. The kava bar environment goes from students studying to a relaxed sociable environment mixing together work and play.
Kava also it helps clean the liver and is a natural detox. Kava drinks also can help with social anxiety, help with test anxiety, and bring a focus when your mind is racing. “Kava is anti-microbial, anti-fungal, and also a diuretic. It is known to help with stress, anxiety, as well as insomnia,” says Sean Simpson. Even the root itself can be used to help burns and tooth aches as more of a topical use. Kava has had its controversy over the years debating its health benefits and a lot of research is using the plant which is toxic. “It’s the same thing as the potato plant, the potato is perfectly safe even though the potato plant itself is very toxic to humans,” said William Gascoyne. The recent studies focused on the root only and have not shown any major negative side effects. Recent studies have even lifted the bans in Canada and the United Kingdom.
The studies on the origins of kava in the islands in the early 1980s the origin of kava comes from the island of Vanuatu. Even though the origin is in Vanuatu there are many stories throughout the islands. For example, in Samoa, there is a myth that goes on about a sun god that gave kava to Tagaloa ui, the high chief of the Samoans. “Kava was used for tribes to discussed politics amongst each other as a way to talk calmly,” said William Gascoyne. Kava in many islands are made by hand by virgin boys and girls because they are considered pure and clean. Nowadays there are clubs and bars throughout the islands that make kava keeping the culture alive and now spreading around the world. The same traditions don’t necessarily apply to the bars in Florida but the community is still here thriving helping each other out as a whole. At the end of my interview with Sean Simpson he said, “Kava is more than a root or a drink, it truly is a way of life. I wouldn’t be where I am today without the family and love I gained from this community. Our motto at Low Tide is that as soon as you walk in, you’re family.”
2902A Beach BLVD S. Gulfport, FL
2500 5th Ave N, St Petersburg, FL
Bula on the beach
14601 Gulf Blvd Unit B, Madeira Beach, FL
4685 28th St N, Saint Petersburg, FL
Sawgrass Tiki Bar
2315 Central Ave, St Petersburg, FL
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Header photo is from Low Tide Kava Bar facebook page.