I’m all about trying new things and learning from unique cultural experiences. So when the only kava bar in Texas invited me to stop by, I was intrigued and excited.
Sure, I had never heard of kava before and had no idea what it was. But when has that stopped me before?
Before my visit, a perusal of SquareRut Kava Bar’s website was extremely informative. I learned that kava is a Pacific Island drink made from the root of a kava plant. The drink has been used for 3,000 years for “medicinal, religious, political, cultural and social purposes.” Heavy stuff!
Kava is relaxing, relieving anxiety and alleviating insomnia. But here’s the kicker. Unlike alcohol, kava actually increases focus and the ability to concentrate. Well, that’s what I read, anyway. Determined to put kava to the test, I headed down to way-south South Congress.
My First Visit to SquareRut Kava Bar
I visited SquareRut Kava Bar with a friend, just before dinnertime on a Friday night. The interior was clean and welcoming, with a laid-back ambiance and decor to match kava’s island origins.
Alli, a long-time employee, greeted us with a big smile from behind the bar. We made ourselves comfortable as Alli started briefing us on what we were about to experience.
The basic kava drink that SquareRut serves is nothing more than ground kava root and cold water, brewed for 24-36 hours. Flavored kava is also served; the flavors change daily. On the day of our visit, the flavor options were Jamaican Almond Fudge and Key Lime Pie. Many of the flavors are created by melting chocolate candies into the regular kava drink.
In addition to kava, SquareRut also serves coffee from Casa Brasil and Zhi Tea.
Tasting the Kava
Now for the part you’ve been waiting for. I tried The Program on my visit, which SquareRut offers for $10. The Program consists of three kava drinks served one after another. It’s recommended that the first two drinks be consumed in quick succession, before waiting 15-20 minutes to have the third.
I followed the instructions as closely as I could. I pretty much pounded my first two drinks, served in hollow coconut shells. Alli described the taste as “bitter and earthy.” Earthy was accurate. Drinking kava is like drinking dirt water. Everyone says that the taste is something you get used to. I can believe that. (For the record, adding a flavor doesn’t mask the earth-related taste of the regular kava. However, it does make the drinking process more interesting.)
Unlike dirt water, there were interesting side effects to follow. My mouth went temporarily numb because kava contains topical anesthetics. And around the end of my second drink, I had a decent buzz going. I’m on the fence about the increased focus/non-impairment claims because I felt about the same as I do when I’m drinking alcohol. But without conducting my own medical studies, I definitely don’t feel qualified to pass judgment here!
I didn’t end up having a whole third drink. Instead, I taste-tested the two flavored kava options that were available. I think my body had probably had enough kava at that point, and I was feeling the effects pretty heavily!
Activities at SquareRut
SquareRut has open mic night every Thursday. Poetry slam is very common, with the occasional musical performance.
On Friday nights, starting in the 9-10 PM window, a local Blues band takes the stage.
When there aren’t organized events going on, SquareRut has a huge bookcase full of games and books that are available for use. Groups can come in and order the Ceremonial Bowl ($35), which is perfect for sharing during an afternoon of socialization.
Outside, there’s a large grassy lawn with shaded picnic tables. Perfect for your doggie friend.
SquareRut Kava Bar on South Congress
Tracy Moreno and Scott Pingel opened SquareRut Kava Bar at 6000 South Congress Ave. in early 2012. While previously living in Florida, they watched a news segment about kava and were compelled to visit their local kava bar to try it out. The result? “We had the best nights sleep and our dreams were intense and vivid.”
That first kava experience launched a journey of research and taste testing that isn’t over yet. Tracy and Scott planned a June trip to Fiji to continue expanding their kava knowledge. One of their goals is to prepare their SquareRut kava as authentically as possible. Any world travelers out there? You be the the judge!
Random Interesting Facts About Kava
- Kava is reverse tolerance: the more you drink, the more just a little bit of kava will affect you.
- Kava and alcohol intensify each other. Do not mix.
- Kava is raw and perfect for people on restrictive diets. If you’re on a juice cleanse, spice it up a bit with some kava.
SquareRut is open from 12 PM-12 AM, seven days a week. If you’ve never tried kava, I recommend it as a unique thing to experience that fits the Austin vibe perfectly. And after you visit, come back and tell me about your visit. Maybe we can conduct our own informal trial!
Does kava appeal to you?