Kava, or awa in Hawaiian, is a Polynesian plant in which the root is processed in order to make an earthy, narcotic beverage. It has been used for centuries ceremonially, medicinally and socially in many Polynesian cultures.
In 2000, the first awa bar in the nation, Hale Noa, opened in Honolulu. This establishment was a dimly-lit, relaxing place for people to gather socially to drink awa and often listen to live, local music. Since the closing of Hale Noa’s doors in 2006, no other strictly awa bars have opened. There are, however, a few places that serve awa along side other menus. Here are two of my favorites, which are a stone throws away from Waikiki.
Diamond Head Cove Health BarCheck out ‘Awa Nights at “The Cove” and enjoy a relaxing ambiance.
Big-Island grown awa is served every night, but on Awa Nights (Tues-Thurs & Sun), you can catch some live, local, contemporary Hawaiian music. The setting is casual; pull up a bar stool and watch the girls make fresh, delicious acai bowls (the Mana Bowl is my favorite), sit around a table with friends or lounge on one of the comfy couches. The surroundings are like a tiki hut surf museum, with local art, jewelry and pictures plastered on every available surface. Even the ceilings are painted! If you’re lucky, you might also get to meet Pono, star on the hit show Lost and expert surfer. He also happens to be a Labrador and loves belly rubs.
DIAMOND HEAD COVE BAR • 3045 Montserrat Ave. #5, Honolulu, HI 96815 • 808-732-8744 • Mon: 10am-8pm, Tues-Thurs: 10am to 11pm (Awa Nights), Fri & Sat: 10am-8pm • www.DiamondHeadCove.com
A cup of awa to the left and a bowl of poke to the right. Life’s good!
In my humble opinion, Sam’s Kitchen has the best awa in town. Opened August 2011, Sam Monaghan serves cups, half gallons and full gallons of fresh or powdered awa, usually the Fijian or Hawaiian variety. An awa drinker himself, Sam brews this tasty, creamy beverage skillfully – and quite potently, too. The venue is casual and artsy, with paintings of waves and the sailing canoe, Hokule’a, on the walls and candid pictures as table decorations.
Not only is the awa ono (delicious), but the food is delicious as well. My go-to favorite is the Sam’s Special, which is two choices of shrimp (garlic, spicy garlic, pesto or Matsuri style), sukiyaki beef, ebi mayo, poke or chicken (teriyaki, garlic, pesto or curry), with a fresh tossed salad, rice and a free soft drink, all for only $9.50! I always get the garlic shrimp (with Sam’s top secret garlic sauce) and poke combo. Are you drooling yet?
SAM’S KITCHEN • 847 Kapahulu Ave. Honolulu, HI 96816 • 808-735-2225
If you’re in the neighborhood and curious to try awa, then visit one (or both!) of these amazing establishments. Not only will you have a taste of one of Hawaii’s most ancient beverages, but you’ll also have the opportunity to get off the beaten tourist track and visit some of the locals’ favorite hang outs.