The first time Amelia stepped inside Kavasutra, New York City’s first Kava bar, it was well after midnight. Although I had described it to her as best I could, she was unsure what to expect. Despite the hour, it was crowded, with a few patrons hanging out on the benches in front of the shop. The bartender welcomed her as she came in, as did many of the people that were already laughing and singing along to the music playing loudly from an overhead speaker. He explained that it was just about time for the “one a. m. slam, ” the time of night at Kavasutra when single Kava shots are only one dollar. Amelia ordered one and watched as everyone else scrambled to get in their orders before the clock struck one. The Kava shell came to her, a small black bowl filled with what looks like murky water and garnished with a slice of pineapple. At one a. m., the bartender lifted his hand in the air. “Everyone ready? ” he said as the crowd joined him in raising up their Kava shells. Amelia followed suit and the bartender began to count down from three. As Amelia described the event to me, "We all raised the shells to our mouths and downed our kava shots, and then a loud cheer rose up from the bar. "Kava is a root, ground and mixed with water, that is traditionally drunk on the island of Vanuatu in the South Pacific. Over the years, it has grown in popularity in the Western World. In addition to its first location in Manhattan on 10th Street, Kavasutra has multiple bars in Florida and one in Denver, Colorado. According to Kavasutra’s website, Kava is a safe alternative to alcohol, which gives one a calming feeling without the mentally incapacitating effects of other substances. I first discovered the cafe/bar on a Saturday afternoon. My husband was eager to give Kava a try. I had a quick taste, but, like many, did not find it appealing. However, my husband persevered. Both the guys behind the bar and those sitting around it said that it does not go down easily, but is well worth the effort. A seasoned veteran at the bar explained what to expect from our first experience. “It’ll just mellow you out, ” he said. Exactly how it was described to us is how my husband felt. "It definitely gave me a bit of a high sensation, " he said. When I asked Amelia how it was for her, she told me, "I had a slight tingling numbness on my lips and throat, then a feeling of calm and clarity pervaded my senses. " Both concurred that this lasted for several hours.
Beneath the Spanish Benevolent Society lies La Nacional, one of Manhattan’s most authentic Spanish restaurants and the most easily accessible part of the society. Just by walking down the steps into the dimly lit basement lounge, we felt the bustle of 14th street quickly recede and we were transported across the ocean. La Nacional has the same relaxed, no frills atmosphere as most tapas bars in Spain. We gazed at the old photographs from the society’s earlier years on the walls and then had the option of sipping a drink at the bar, sampling some classic simple Spanish tapas such as tortilla de patatas, croquetas or chorizo, or dining on a full meal of paella. Perhaps the most authentic option, though, was to simply have a seat by the television to watch the fútbol game - it is always on. For visitors from Spain who want a taste of home, those of us pining for the Spanish travels of our past, or New Yorkers simply curious about a new culture, La Nacional is the place to go.