Happy Hour Kahuna Awa Kava Bar

The Kahuna gives off an upscale vibe from the outside that belies the casual, relaxed mood inside. It does the Polynesian décor in a simple and effective way. Though it might just be all the hookahs everywhere, there also seems to be a bit of Middle Eastern styling to the place. Tapestries line the walls and ceiling; a bookshelf contains philosophical books that lend themselves to the meditative atmosphere; and a surfboard leaning against the bookshelf is ready to go (board bag and all). The only illumination is provided by a series of box lights sitting on the bar.

Kava tastes like something between dirt (it is the root of a plant you're drinking, after all) and black pepper (a relative of the kava shrub). The effect of kava isn't really as intoxicating as it is sedative, like the body high one gets from marijuana, prescription medications, or vigorous exercise.

Kava is a big part of the culture of the Pacific Islands, as important as Guinness to Irish pub culture or cigarettes to café culture in France. The Kahuna represents kava culture well, and not just because it has a Fijian flag hanging on the front window. The bartenders know their product as well as a sommelier knows wines. The kava even comes in seemingly authentic cups that tell you this place knows its stuff. Park in the garage attached to the mixed-use shopping plaza -- they validate your ticket.
Mondays-Fridays, 4-7 p.m., 2009

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